HeForShe, One Year On

They say that women don’t leave organisations; they leave managers. HeForShe’s “IMPACT 10x10x10” pilot aims to find the source of the leak and fix it. But will things change?

By Jean Balfour, Director, Bailey Balfour


For many years, organisations have had initiatives to increase the number of women in leadership positions, although not solely due to altruism: research shows that companies with women in leadership positions are more successful and less risky. Yet progress has been slow and the global pipeline is still leaky. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index estimates that, at the current pace, global parity would take more than 100 years to achieve. In Asia, some countries such as the Philippines are leading the way while others are lagging behind the global average, like Japan. Singapore is ranked in the upper-middle.


There are many and complex reasons for the slow progress on achieving parity. They range from company culture to its policies and processes. Other factors are related to women’s objective struggles in balancing their career and the caring responsibilities at home. From where we stand, one of the most interesting factors is middle management. The quality of the relationship between line managers and the women they lead is a key factor in their retention and career potential. Line managers have real power in influencing the organisation’s culture. They are also best positioned to support and develop the women in the organisation. This is true for both men and women line managers, but today we want to focus on the men.


It’s been more than a year since UN Women launched HeForShe in Davos. More than just a campaign, their aim is to start a movement in which men and boys are seen as partners in the effort to achieve gender equality. The idea is that this is not just a women’s issue — it’s a humanity issue.


Since the launch by UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films, a female Millennial, the face of the career woman of the future), interest has been high. There have been 2 billion social media conversations and more than 1,000 events worldwide. There have been 1.3 million online personal commitments on the heforshe.org website, including over 2,500 from Singapore.


HeForShe’s “IMPACT 10x10x10” is a pilot engaging 30 men champions — leaders of 10 countries (including Indonesia and Japan), 10 universities (including Oxford and Hong Kong) and 10 corporates — all committed to make the changes needed to achieve parity in their own institutions and report on their progress. The timeline is ambitious and they are aiming to demonstrate progress within five years. Among the corporate champions are Barclays, PWC, Schneider Electric, Twitter, Unilever and Vodafone.


Here’s what these champions plan to do.


Commitment from the Top


When the commitment comes from the top, real change is more likely to happen. Research shows that when CEOs are clear and vocal about their support, they are able to shift the organisational culture. All IMPACT champions have made public personal commitments.


Measure and Share Data


Transparency is the first step in walking the talk. All IMPACT champions have unprecedentedly disclosed internal pipeline diversity figures, and the numbers are already above the global average. Looking at the entire pipeline, not just senior executive and board level, is also key. Similar initiatives tend to focus on women at the top, but the problem starts earlier.


Invest in Training


IMPACT champions have made commitments to train their people on gender bias and equality. This is where they can really change behaviours of middle managers. Bias training is important, but equipping managers with some good coaching skills can’t hurt. Women who feel supported by their managers are highly engaged and less likely to leak out of the pipeline. Complementary to these are other pipeline-critical support initiatives for women and their managers, such as maternity coaching.


Change Processes and Policies


It is important to look at the inherent bias that lies in the processes, not just the people. Organisational processes play a part and there may be a need to fundamentally revise them. This may include flexible working patterns, parental leave and promotion decisions as well as ensuring key HR processes are gender neutral. Remuneration is also key and indeed many IMPACT champions have committed to closing the pay gap.


Spread the Word


IMPACT champions commit to embedding gender equality in their events, run think tanks on related topics and also run their own internal 10x10x10 campaign internally. That also includes inspiring suppliers and customers to join the commitment.


It would be interesting to see the scope and depth of the change in these organisations, not just numbers but also stories of women who moved up in their careers and managers who coached and developed the women they lead. It would also be great to see other organisations joining this initiative. Will you rise to the challenge?


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