In this opinion piece, Salesforce’s vice president of marketing, Asia Pacific, Wendy Johnstone, says businesses needs to get past gender stereotyping – men in sales/women in PR – if it is truly to move forward…
For a large part of my career, I approached the issue of gender equality in the workplace as the elephant in the room. The fact that I was the only female in management meetings wasn’t at all odd; it was just ‘the way things were’. The impetus to not only acknowledge the issue but also tackle it came when I reached a personal milestone. Like so many women before me, the arrival of my two greatest innovations marked a real point of reflection and I emerged with a very changed attitude.
Before motherhood, I invested so much of who I was into my work and my team. As soon as I became a mother, I found myself in a strange place of navigating dual roles that seemed to pull me in different directions. It sounds cliché but that really was my moment of reckoning; I decided I didn’t want to ignore or accept the status quo anymore; I decided that equal female participation in the workplace was something that really mattered to me. And I wanted to champion it.
The case for gender diversity
The business case for diversity and inclusion is compelling – having a diverse workplace is intrinsically linked to business excellence and performance. As a senior executive at Salesforce, I witness first-hand how diverse perspectives and opinions drive innovative thinking and fresh ideas that hatch into new products and services. If you want to out-innovate and outperform your competition, it makes no sense to limit the talent pool from which to draw ideas and foster innovation.
Statistics show that employees at gender-diverse companies are 45 per cent more likely to report their company improved market share in the last 12 months and 70 per cent more likely to report that their company captured a new market in the same time frame. We all know that employee engagement and talent retention has a critical impact on the bottom line, so the fact that companies which drive programs of inclusivity report a more engaged workforce, should not be a surprise.
From a broad perspective, overall female representation in the workforce sits at around 45 per cent, according to ABS data. However, if you look underneath the bonnet of this statistic you will find senior positions grossly under-represented – the fact remains that women are being locked out of leadership positions.
So what’s holding us back from taking action?
None of the statistics I’ve highlighted above are new, surprising or even ground breaking – we have known about them for some time now. Yet despite outward polices, programs and even regulation to address the issue; progress has been slow.
I believe this is due to an underlying unconscious bias.
Unconscious bias exists in all of us; stemming from behavioural norms that are built into our psyche from a young age. In a workplace scenario, unconscious bias plays out in the way we make decisions and give preference to certain types of people, based on stereotypes and perceived skills that a certain gender exhibits.
An example is a common setting we see in many tech companies: the ‘natural’ inclination to hire females into marketing roles and males into sales roles, because of the assumed skills we associate with different genders.
When unconscious bias impacts hiring, promotions and salary decisions, it results in unfair prejudices and impedes equality for both men and women.
Unconscious bias is difficult to pinpoint because in many cases it is unintentional. So unless we recognise it within ourselves and help others acknowledge it, the path towards true gender equality will continue to be stymied.
How we are tacking gender diversity at Salesforce
Shortly after I joined Salesforce I was given the opportunity to lead FemmeForce, our gender diversity program. When I was asked to take on the role, I had one stipulation: to change the conversation and make it truly inclusive for both men and women.
We set about running focus groups and interviewing our people to seek their opinion. Interestingly, we discovered our male staff were also struggling with gender diversity issues but from a different perspective; they wanted to engage on the issue but didn’t know how. Their sensitivity to the issue was refreshing and it has helped us open up a dialogue built on inclusiveness.
Our director of leadership and talent programs, Marina Harper, has since developed an internal training program on unconscious bias in an effort to change attitudes from the inside out. Importantly, the program brings to the surface many biases that we didn’t even know existed and forces us to confront them in a positive and productive way.
One of the most critical areas we are tackling is the pay disparity that exists between the sexes. Earlier this year our CEO, Marc Benioff made a promise to Salesforce staff and the industry, to end the vast gender pay gap by achieving 100 per cent equality for men and women in terms of salary and compensation.
Thinking of how our children will make their own way in the world one day is nerve-wracking for any parent. My hope is that by the time my children enter the workforce, gender diversity issues will be a thing of the past.