Friday, March 4, 2011

More women fix-its won't work

An interesting article in ABC News caught my eye with the headline: Top Companies push programs to help women in the workplace. Despite reports that women still lag behind men, and earn  only 80% of what men earn, some companies appear to have realized that more women = better results. The article quotes companies such as PwC, Johnson and Johnson, Wendys, Barilla and Sodexo as companies who offer "mother-friendly options" . Well that's great. Or is it ? The other half of the story is that no matter how mother-friendly, women-centric, gender positive, female flavored, women-inclusive or simply girl-heaven companies are, the fact is that all these "help women to be more available, more capable, more knowledgeable and more business-savvy or even more political" programs  are not doing any real sustainable good. In some cases, sure, it helps to have assistance with child care, or flexible working time and these facilities help women get a foot in the door. But what helps them advance in the organization is not women-oriented-fix-it programs. We looked at this in some research we did a while back, and found that this womenwashing is not effective.  Despite all these initiatives to advance women, women are not advancing. We analysed 100 companies and found 305 separate fix-women initiatives and only 10% of Board Members or senior executives who are women. 82 companies invested $$$$$$$$$ and time to fix women. But women still did not advance. And it's not because women can't be fixed. They don't need to be fixed. They are good enough. What needs to change is leadership, culture and male interest in advancing women.

The HR Manager must have a voice here. Checking off another fix-it program in the HR Managers busy-list is  a cop out and doesn't address the root of the problem. HR Managers need to have a stronger voice in expressing both the responsibilities of the company and the opportunities that women's advancement brings. How many HR Managers truly champion an inclusive culture ? How many HR Managers, many of whom are women themselves, go out on a limb to ensure the (male) leadership truly understands the value of gender balance at all levels ? How many HR managers measure the outcomes of women-friendly programs rather than the inputs?   It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!  And to truly inclusive workplaces.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

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