In Switzerland, many CEOs have pledged to make gender diversity a top priority. Companies are investing time and money on efforts to increase the proportion of women in leadership and build a more robust female pipeline for their future leaders.
One barrier to gender parity which has emerged, for example, from gender equality expert Michelle King’s research is that, although it is broadly known that women have different experiences than men at work, a majority of leaders are in denial about that fact. Senior executives believe men and women have identical and equal opportunities, workplace experiences, and career paths. Consequently, they believe that women do not succeed
because of their individual choices or capabilities, and not because of unwelcoming work environments. The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating change as long-term trends defined a year ago have become our reality overnight. This may prove a valuable catalyst for positive shifts in working models and environments, both in terms of structures and mindsets. More flexibility and scope for individual employee experiences will be good for diversity of all kinds, not just gender.
Real change comes from actions, not words. To create a truly equal work environment, leaders need to set the standard and lead by example for the types of behaviors they want their employees to adopt. At EY in Switzerland, we constantly seek ways to challenge and break outdated mindsets. One technique we use is workshops that make our leaders experience their cognitive biases personally. Once they have awareness about their undesired subconscious behaviors, they become more open and able to change them. We then progress to the “future-back” approach, which involves using megatrends as a key analytical tool to envision the future. Working backwards, we then design strategies that we can execute today to get to the desired future state. This method flips the script on the standard approach to talent-related projections, plans and strategy, which use the current state as the starting point.
From here on, leaders are consciously looking to learn the skills they need to practice equality as part of their day-to-day job so that it becomes a fundamental way of working, embedded in both personal mindset and corporate culture.
A question of culture
At EY in Switzerland, our efforts to unlock diversity are integrated at every level of the organization. It’s how we ensure the permanent cultural shift needed to tap the full potential of our talent pool. Our D&I Council oversees strategy, programs and initiatives, while visible role models and senior sponsors carry our D&I message to our people and our stakeholders.
To translate any change into culture, it’s important that people feel a sense of ownership. Formal guidelines hold EY’s service lines accountable for diverse decision-making panels in promotion and recruitment processes. We train our HR professionals to be knowledgeable about D&I principles and empower them to consistently challenge or call out biased practices and behaviors. And we actively seek to avoid bias. For example, during performance review meetings we alternate between male and female employees to prevent the brain from becoming biased.
We are committed to D&I – we walk the talk. First, we focus on recruiting and who we hire. We strive to retain these employees by supporting them through an exceptional career experience, tailored to the individual and supported by their counselors and team leaders. Second, we concentrate on inclusive leadership driven through our organization to the lowest levels. This focus helps all our people to develop into “inclusive” leaders and is a learning experience that follows them as they progress through EY. Finally, we also invest time and budget in targeted communication campaigns that keep D&I top of mind. As a few examples, EY is a member of Advance, the leading business association for gender equality in Switzerland, and gets on board with events such as International Women’s Day, International Pay Day, Movember, Men’s day, Pride month and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
We always strive to bring the very best of EY, diverse teams and inclusive behaviors to our work, leading by example to meet client expectations. With this strategy, we hope to ensure a diverse and inclusive pipeline of future leaders.
Key takeaways for business leaders