Achieving Gender Parity through Empowerment

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This article is part of the Forum Network series on the New Societal Contract and will feed into upcoming discussions at OECD Forum 2019.

It’s easy to work with people who are just like you. You think alike, you agree on the same things and you get your work done faster.

Having lived and worked in many countries around the world, however, I have experienced first-hand how much we can achieve when the people we are working with are not like us. Different backgrounds, cultures and personalities all bring perspectives that challenge us to see things through a different lens. Working in diverse environments demands that you yourself be inclusive and makes you a better person and a better leader.

Gender parity is one aspect of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) that I am very passionate about. As a father to a fantastic teenage daughter, I’d like to think that gender stereotypes will not deter or hold her back from pursuing her dreams, stifle her personality or prevent her from living to her full potential.

Ultimately, in my opinion, gender parity is about empowering others so they can be at their best. This is what I have always strived to achieve both as a father and as a business leader.

Research shows that gender diversity is good for business and can lead to improved performance. McKinsey research, for example, has shown that companies in the top quartile for executive-level gender diversity outperform earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margins by 21%.

Gender parity concerns us all. Just like other areas of D&I and equality, it’s often those who feel the inequality that bring the problem to light – but it is everyone’s responsibility to solve it. This is why I firmly believe that when it comes to empowering women in the workplace, men have an equal role to play and employers are uniquely positioned to help facilitate that. Employers must educate, empower and inspire all employees to step up and play an active part in creating an equal and inclusive environment for everyone. It’s simply the right thing to do.

And at Johnson & Johnson it’s called out in our Credo: “We must provide an inclusive work environment where each person must be considered an individual”. Indeed, Johnson & Johnson has always been a leader in D&I and gender parity: from the fact that more than half of J&J’s first 14 employees were women, to offering new parents – maternal, paternal and adoptive – paid leave in their child’s first year, to mentoring programmes, or supporting mums coming back to the workplace. One of our more recent initiatives is the J&J WiSTEM2D programme. It aims to inspire, support and mentor young women and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, maths, manufacturing and design.

As a result of our efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive environment within J&J, I’m inspired by how our employees across the organisation are stepping up and recognising the influence they have in shaping the gender conversation. One programme I’m particularly proud of is CAST: Casting Aside Stereotypes Today. This was a pilot initiative launched last year that recognises the roles brands can play in breaking stereotypes and challenging traditional perceptions within advertisements. It is dedicated to representing J&J’s diverse consumer base in the real world.

What do all of these programmes have in common? Empowerment. Empowering people to be themselves, helping to make them feel included and supporting them to be at their best. I champion empowerment because it’s the right thing to do, and when people feel empowered they can do anything – including empower others.

When it comes to advancing gender parity, it is not enough to talk about supporting women in work, it’s about taking responsibility for the role you play. A good first step is to understand your unconscious bias because whether we like it or not, we all have it, and recognising your blind spots allows you to be more aware of your behaviour and mindset. It also means that you understand the impact this has on those you work with, enabling you to take action, be inclusive, actively seek out different opinions and empower those around you to be brilliant.

As senior leaders, it is our responsibility to set the tone, lead by example and give others in our organisation – both men and women – the permission to do the same. As we welcome new generations into our companies, it’s more important than ever to ensure we’re engaging them in the discussion as we shape the culture of a diverse and inclusive workforce of the future.

  • What are some common D&I blind spots that we need to recognise? And what can we do to address them?
  • Can D&I help companies to drive innovation? We’re particularly proud of this case study.
  • What can male leaders do to empower underrepresented groups to speak out about their experience of the workplace? (e.g. addressing prejudices and challenges, creating focus groups)
  • What do you consider to be the difference, if any, between diversity and inclusion?
  • What’s next for D&I? 

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Related Topics

Gender Equality Health OECD Forum 2019

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OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

Banner image: Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

Pat Smallcombe

Company Group Chair, EMEA, Johnson & Johnson