Four Approaches to Promoting Gender Inclusion in Business

Gender InclusionAs recently as two years ago, the S&P 1500 included more CEOs named John than CEOs who were women. If you think that statistic couldn’t be more depressing, you’re wrong—there are also more CEOs named David than women at the top.

Facts like these remind us that women are still woefully underrepresented in the highest echelons of the business world, despite the fact that women are graduating from college and attaining advanced degrees in greater numbers than their male peers. The familiar glass ceiling—even if it’s cracking—remains stubbornly in place at too many top firms.

At the 2017 Booth Women Connect Conference, experts from a diverse range of industries came together for a panel discussion to share how their companies are promoting best practices and ushering more women into leadership positions. Here’s what they had to say.

Rethink the workplace

“Throughout my career, I looked up, and I didn't see women in leadership represented. That's really depressing and disheartening, to look up and not see great role models,” said panelist Anna Auerbach. She became “obsessed” with the issue. After digging into the data, she discovered that a lack of flexibility at work was forcing many women to choose between their careers and caring for their families, and that many ultimately dropped out of the workforce.

So in 2016, Auerbach cofounded Werk, a job marketplace that curates flexible openings at top companies. Flexibility is in the spotlight these days, and for good reason—at a time when firms are struggling to attract and retain top talent, flexibility in the workplace is the number one concern among female job seekers and a top-three concern among all millennials, she said.

Since the very term “flexibility” can vary widely depending on who you ask, Werk is also helping to define different kinds of job flexibility to encourage companies and employees to start speaking the same language. The ultimate goal is to keep women in the leadership pipeline by helping them find job opportunities that are compatible with their lives outside the office. As Auerbach puts it, “Humans are not one size fits all, and therefore work should not be one size fits all.”

Demand better

As a managing partner at impact investment firm Arjuna Capital, Natasha Lamb integrates environmental, social, and governance factors into Arjuna’s investment process. The firm also engages major corporations to improve their gender-inclusion performance through shareholder advocacy.

“What we're trying to inspire is a proactive approach to dealing with this problem,” said Lamb, who has pushed proposals that ultimately prompted several major technology companies to disclose their gender pay gaps and commit to fixing them.

There are many upsides for firms that commit to recognizing and addressing their own shortcomings in gender representation, said Lamb. “Companies with more diverse leadership teams have higher return on equity, better profit margins, and better stock price performance by as much as 36 percent, which is pretty remarkable.”

Learn from those you lead

Julie McLaughlin, ’13 (XP-82), is the director of business development for Brookfield Renewable, a renewable power group within Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management. As the company grows, she said, it wants to continue to attract and promote more women professionals.

To that end, Brookfield formed an advisory committee of 18 women to assess the company’s gender-inclusion efforts. “Part of that committee’s role was to go out and talk to all the women within the asset-management portion of the business,” McLaughlin said, “and find out what attracted them to the company, what was needed to keep them at the company, where could we do better, and how could we continue attracting more women talent.”

The committee collected interviews from about 400 women and plans to use the resulting data to create proposals that will be presented to senior management, McLaughlin said.

Create momentum for change

Private equity firm Carlyle Group, based in Washington, DC, has seen “a tremendous amount of energy and momentum” in its efforts to create a more diverse workplace, said Matthew Wells, the company’s global head of learning, diversity, and inclusion.

“The policies that changed to help women in the workforce are helping men as well. So all of the votes are with it when we do the right thing,” said Wells. 

Creating a diversity council and employee resource groups have been successful strategies, said Wells, as has hiring more talented women into the company’s junior ranks. Over the past five years, 50 percent of Carlyle’s two-year associates have been women, even though the firm hires from investment banks, where women account for only about 20 percent of employees, he said. The firm hopes to improve gender diversity among its MBA recruits, which he said can be a challenge because of perceptions about work-life balance in the private equity field in general. Having the right policies and processes in place is also a critical component, he said.

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2017 event brought together more than 1,000 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for this year’s conference on October 12, 2018.


—By LeeAnn Shelton

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