What is your brand’s approach to gender equality?

What is your brand’s approach to gender equality?

If you don’t have a good answer to that question, read on for Saffron’s thoughts on how brand can guide your approach to gender equality to ensure success for your business.

Consumers and leading business thinkers are demanding that brands as employers and corporate citizens stand up to drive social change. This is especially true for gender equality, where businesses can make a big and tangible difference.

In the aftermath of the #MeToo uproar, there is increased attention on the importance of getting more women into leadership roles and establishing equal pay. Brands that do not participate can face real backlash where it hurts most: their bottom line. Examples include the proposed IPO of WeWork with an all-male board; the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature being cancelled and fashion brand Guess losing more than $250 million in market value in one day after accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

Aside from being a social imperative, the business case for gender equality has never been more loud and clear. Countless studies show it fosters better leadership, increased productivity and greater innovation. The Peterson Institute found that a company with 30% female leadership could add up to six percentage points to its net margin compared to a similar business with no female leaders. It can also signal to investors that a company is well run, with research showing a jump in stock prices after companies win an award related to diversity.

Increasingly, firms are taking action. This year Goldman Sachs announced it will no longer promote IPOs for companies with all-male boards. But even in the face of the cultural reckoning, some corporations have been slow to change.

All too often companies have implemented one-off, cookie-cutter initiatives like diversity training or quotas, owned exclusively by HR, that fail to connect with the business vision and strategy. Organisations need to take a stance and let the world know they embrace difference and champion belonging by making gender equality part of their brand.

Go beyond just ticking a box
Strategies that work in one firm may not work in another. Companies should dig deeper and build lasting value by going to the heart of the problem, where organisational culture has a major role to play. Through studies and facilitating cultural change, Saffron has helped many organisations reflect on and craft their gender balance strategy as well as an approach to diversity and inclusion through the lens of their brand promise.

Authenticity and purpose have long become valuable currencies in the business world. Brand has a fundamental role to play in making headway here by shaping mindsets and supporting a robust corporate culture that positively impacts both business and employees.

Sodexo, one of the world’s largest employers, and a company we are proud to have worked with, is a leader in gender balance. They worked with Saffron to pursue a global strategy that goes to the heart of their promise of improving “Quality of Life.” It’s paid off with their study showing that a gender-inclusive work culture has increased employee engagement by 4%, gross profits by 23%, and brand awareness by 5%.

Change starts with culture
To change behaviour, it is crucial to first understand the beliefs and assumptions that shape company culture and tailor relevant work practices to influence it. Positive change needs to come from an authentic place and be championed from the top. Nike experienced first-hand the fall out that occurs when leadership and culture don’t align. After announcing it would start prioritising female customers, it was blindsided by a revolution led by female staff that exposed a toxic, sexist culture which saw the downfall of several executives.

Get senior leadership on board
It’s critical that all leaders in the company back the mission and are aligned on why and how the company prioritises gender balance and what they seek to achieve. What are the underlying beliefs about gender in the company? Do they frame gender balance as a key lever to achieving business goals? Are they encouraging and open about employees talking about gender?

From promise to experience
The challenge will be to move from theory to practice; words to action; promise to delivering the actual experience. It’s key to determine what the overall objective of the programme is and how far leaders are willing to go to set milestones and study progress. Current initiatives will need to be revised to support the positioning and new iconic initiatives will need to be rolled out.

The bottom line
Women represent over half of the population and are responsible for 70 to 80 percent of consumer buying decisions. Calling for diversity falls short of what is needed. If corporate leaders want to make progress on gender equality they will need to clearly state it and define it as a lever to achieving their business strategy.

To build business success with gender equality, you will need to ask yourself some tough questions.

  1. Is this a clear business priority in the eyes of the CEO?
  2. Is broader leadership fully on board, ready to be held accountable, and speak out about it?
  3. How does the brand promise connect with gender equality?
  4. How will it guide the initiatives that spur culture change and inspire the credible story you will tell both inside and out?

The way you frame the approach is half the battle and by clearly linking gender equality to the organisation’s collective purpose, companies can begin to close their gender gap and ensure it’s a win–win for all.

By Amanda Calvo, Strategist

To talk about your brand’s approach to gender and diversity, get in touch.