In my work as a leadership coach for women, I’ve had the privilege of working with a wide spectrum of organizations, each at a different point in their journey toward gender diversity. The corporate landscape is far from uniform, with some companies just beginning to acknowledge the importance of this issue and others having made significant strides. I’ve encountered organizations where gender diversity is considered a strategic asset, an integral part of their success. However, I’ve also worked with those who are still unclear about why and how they should implement a gender diversity program.

This diversity in approach underscores a fundamental truth: The path to gender equity in the corporate world is both varied and dynamic.

How do you know where your organization stands in its gender equity journey? I see most organizations move through three key phases in their journey.

Phase 1: Explore

Organizations in the explore phase are focused on becoming compliant with the laws of the land and prevailing social imperatives. They are at the data-gathering stage, identifying the big whys and gaining buy-in from stakeholders.

These could be legacy organizations that have never felt the need to prioritize gender equity until recently. Or they could be startups that have focused on revenue and business performance for survival, with gaps in human-capital practices.

It’s important for leaders in this stage to ask the right questions that can lead them to the approach that is most valuable in their context. They must reflect on what gender equity means to their organization and its culture, as well as to them personally as leaders.

Phase 2: Emerge

In this stage, organizations shift from observing and complying to experimenting with initiatives of their own. Leadership plays a crucial role here in shifting the existing culture of the organization to look at gender equity beyond just demographics and representation.

Leaders must invest time in creating an organization-wide strategy that is aligned with business initiatives and outcomes. These leaders should also publicly commit to the company’s gender equity philosophy and strategy, making themselves accountable for change within the organization. Employee resource groups (ERGs) and gender equity champions play an imperative role in driving the culture.

Since this is the experimentation phase of a strategic approach, the enthusiasm that accompanies a new initiative is high, but efforts at different levels and across different regions may sometimes be uncoordinated. Some regions and functions within the organization may emerge as gender equity champions, while others may ignore the new initiatives. Resilience is the most important attribute to be demonstrated at this stage, as some efforts may fail and can be short-lived.

It’s important for leaders in this phase to reflect on how their gender equity strategy is aligned with business initiatives and outcomes. They need to consider their full sphere of influence: How do gender discrimination and inequity impact their internal and external stakeholders? Finally, they must reflect on how they can standardize their efforts and ensure consistency in implementation.


Phase 3: Flourish

This is the stage organizations reach after they have finally learned an approach that works in their context after much trial and error. Some of the features of this stage include establishing and integrating strong practices and best-in-class, personalized strategies.

Organizations in this phase are in a position to make statements like “We prioritize gender equity in every sphere and decision within our organization.” It’s noteworthy that here achieving gender equity is not the ownership of one leader but a part of the organization’s DNA, dependent on every single individual to make it a success.

Leaders must remember that humility is the most required attribute for organizations in this phase to flourish. Flourish is not about reaching a stage of “perfection”; rather it focuses on continuous improvement and consistency. Organizations and their leaders must be modest enough to identify and accept what is not working and change course when needed. They must reflect on how they plan to continue to sustain this culture of gender equity.

By understanding their current maturity levels, organizations can address gaps in their current approach and formulate a road map of what the journey ahead looks like and which actions they need to focus on to make their efforts in gender equity successful.


Final Thoughts

My experience working with various client organizations has shown me that gender diversity is not just about programs; it’s about culture. By fostering a holistic approach to gender equity, organizations can empower their women professionals and, in turn, enhance their success.

This journey is ongoing, and I’m excited to see the continued growth and empowerment of women in these organizations and the broader corporate world.

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