International Women's Day

This month, which marks the first International Women’s Day in the new decade (March 8), is a good time to reflect on women’s progress toward equality in the working world and business leadership ranks. The news isn’t good.

Here are a few statistics from the 2019 Crunchbase Diversity Report:

  • The percentage of global venture capital invested in female-founded companies was just 3%; male-female cofounded companies got 10%, and male-only founded companies received 87%.
  • The proportion of global startups founded by women stands at just 20%.
  • Funding by startup stage remains overwhelmingly male dominated, with female-founded companies taking 7% of seed, 5% of Series A, 3% of Series B and 2% of Series C+ funding.

We Have a Problem

The first step toward solving any problem is admitting that the problem exists, so let’s say it for the record: we have a problem! In addition to raising awareness about workplace harassment, the #MeToo movement exposed gender inequality on a number of fronts. Still, while it’s good that awareness has increased, it’s disheartening that so little progress has been made.

As the Crunchbase report notes, one major funding challenge is that women don’t have access to the same networks men have, so building the relationships that open doors to opportunities is more difficult. The report observes that more venture capital firms are adding women partners to close that gap. That’s one kind of action that can make a difference.

It’s Time to Take Action

Companies and individuals are taking action to improve the situation too. A 60 Minutes report from 2018 detailed how Salesforce is making good on its commitment to gender equality. The company raised pay for women across the board, and CEO Marc Benioff opened another door by adopting a rule that leadership meetings must be at least one-third female.

But it’s going to take a concerted effort by many more business leaders and funding decision-makers to truly bring about change. We’ve known about the gender pay gap for generations, and although it’s shrinking, it remains a massive problem that is baked into our culture. Only widespread, intentional action can move the needle.

Action Starts from the Top Down

If you’re a company leader, there are proactive steps you can take to improve gender equality and diversity in the workplace. Remember that it starts from the top down. One of the most effective ways to create an equal workplace is to have a diverse management team, which attracts diverse candidates, so be intentional about your hiring across the board.

When you interview for leadership positions, make sure women are considered. In fact, make that a rule. People’s social circles and business connections often look like they do, which means white and male at most companies. Be intentional about giving female candidates a fair shot at the job.

Diversify Your Company

Take a look at your board composition, and if it’s all male and lacks diversity, fix that. Not only will doing so help you attract more diverse candidates and women to your leadership team, your new board members will bring valuable perspectives and experiences that can help you navigate a changing business landscape.

If you’re leading a startup, look for diverse funding sources. A VC firm comprised entirely of white men who went to Stanford are more likely to fund startups whose founders are from that same mold. But the investment community is diversifying (slowly!), so seek out those sources.

If you want to learn more about developing a playbook for diversity in business, there’s a fantastic book coming out this March called The Upside by Diane Flynn and Patty O’Brien White. The authors are the cofounders of Reboot Accel and are focused on empowering women to lead lives of impact and influence. Patty and Diane also consult with private equity, Fortune 500 and high-growth companies to improve innovation and profitability through the advancement of women. They’ve been profiled on The Today Show, HuffPost, ABC News, NBC and The Wall Street Journal for their unique approach.  If you’re interested, check Amazon for the book release.

The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in 1975. The #MeToo movement gained widespread traction in 2017. Awareness of workplace inequality issues are a great first step, but we all need to take the next step by being intentional and carrying the work of equality forward.

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