Behind the Scenes with Gild Collective: The Fight for Gender Parity
Written by Kelsey Pytlik, co-founder of Gild Collective.
At Gild Collective, we work with organizations to deliver women’s leadership and gender diversity programming and strategy. Most often, we work with women’s initiatives (sometimes called women’s networks, employee resource groups... the list goes on). Sometimes this is a formal program that is mandated by HR or a diversity and inclusion team within the organization. Other times, we are working with a passionate group of employees who are working to drive progress in their companies to see more women rise.
As we’ve developed our workshop topics since 2015, we’ve aimed to gather insight from our clients. We’ve tried to understand what the unique challenges are for the women in the organization, what the support looks like from leadership, and how all members of the organization perceive the women’s initiative or other gender diversity efforts.
Of course, along the way we’ve seen companies that land across the spectrum of doing-it-all-right to not-doing-it-at-all. In fact, one exercise we incorporate into our work and workshops to understand this placement is an assessment from the World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Gender Parity Toolkit.
The toolkit breaks down various tools and tactics along the progress categories of Commit, Embed, and Scale. No matter where organizations fall, they all face challenges in driving meaningful progress. In our position as a third party consultant, we’ve been motivated, disappointed, and surprised by what we’ve seen. We want to share some of the “behind the scenes” of these observations so other organizations in the same position know that they are not alone, and there is a solution to their challenges.
The ‘Commit’ Challenge: Passionate People Seeking Buy-In
We see this one more often than we’d like: a group of individuals within an organization that are passionate about making it better. They’ve seen inequality at work that they are eager to change, and are trying to put the right pieces in place to expand the conversation to include key players like human resources and top-level leaders. However, they are being met with nothing but resistance.
An insistence that a lopsided pipeline has nothing to do with bias in hiring or promoting, or a refusal to take a look at inequities in the pay structure for men and women. Pushback on the idea that the “old boys club” activities outside of work could impact assignments employees receive at work. A belief in a “not me, not my problem” culture that leaves women fighting for equity from the outside, without a champion on the inside.
With this type of resistance, we have seen that each push can get an even larger pushback, so it is important to start small and strategically. As you search for the right champion in your organization, you can start to collect (and document!) stories from within the organization that illustrate the rationale for the changes you hope to make. You may not have opportunities to bring the topics and conversation you’d like to have into the company right away, but consider bringing along a key player from within the organization when you attend your next industry event focused on gender parity; sometimes seeing competitors getting on board can be a driver for buy-in. Over time, you can convert more skeptics to advocates and start to gain the commitment needed to acknowledge bias and move into tactics for interrupting it.
The ‘Embed’ Challenge: No Budget, No Direction
Many of the organizations we’ve worked with have struggled with one of two things after they have started work on their gender diversity efforts: no budget, or no direction. Both are major challenges that might show an underlying symptom of misunderstood buy-in: the idea that if we have something it’s better than nothing, regardless of whether it has a strong purpose or the budget to execute something meaningful.
The most surprising thing we’ve encountered along the way was a huge global corporation with a dedicated diversity and inclusion team and a strategically executed women’s initiative that was crippled by a lack of budget. For a full year, the organization had dedicated less than $0.25 per employee to the women’s initiative – not even enough for a bag of chips per person, let alone comprehensive professional development programming.
We’ve also seen the opposite: an organization throwing money at a problem without fully thinking through it. Without direction, the dollars didn’t translate to employees feeling any more engaged, because they didn’t see the value in the programs or benefits being delivered. In fact, employees felt more misunderstood and frustrated than ever because their voices weren’t being truly heard.
Our recommendation here is focus. Focus on understanding your employees, both female and male, to understand what is the most important to them and start there. Mimicking best practices from other companies only works if they look just like you, and we know every organization is unique in its competitive advantages and disadvantages. Use those best practices as a starting point for gathering information, then tweak and tailor your plans to get the biggest bang for your buck. Which brings us to the buck: It doesn’t have to be a massive budget to be effective. There are plenty of ways you can have impactful dialogue without spending a fortune. However, delivering quality programming and making changes to overarching policy requires an investment. The selling point? There is plenty of research that shows that there will be a bottom line return.
The ‘Scale’ Challenge: Thinking Broadly, Losing Local
As organizations dive into the scale phase of driving gender parity through public campaigns, driving parity in education, and industry-focused education, they can lose sight of the initiatives they have started internally and fail to evolve to keep up with employee needs. They might get so focused on talking the talk that their original “walk” gets watered down in the process.
As your organization grows in size and in its involvement in an effort to drive gender parity, it is critical to create a structure that encourages continued evolution and involvement. Inside the organization, this applies to women’s initiatives that may need a chapter structure with leaders across offices that all communicate to share ideas and successes, supported by D&I leaders who continue to evolve the organization over time. These leaders can also be the link to the community, sharing insights and best practices that others can learn from to adjust and apply to their own organizations. Most importantly, they can also learn from the community, with other newer, scrappier women’s initiatives that are getting things done differently so everyone can continue to evolve over time.
Regardless of company size or category on the spectrum of accelerating gender parity, most organizations still face challenges of some kind. Even the frustrating ones can be managed and addressed over time to continue driving progress!