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IBM study: Gender equity isn't a top priority for business

A man and a woman shaking hands

A new study from IBM has found that 70% of global businesses do not regard gender equity in the workplace as a top priority despite efforts to encourage women into the workplace, especially in STEM fields. Huawei is one such firm that has been trying to make software development more inclusive for women but IBM’s data shows that despite a boost in such programs, the mindsets and cultures have not changed enough which is hurting outcomes.

IBM refers to businesses that prioritise gender equity as ‘First Movers’ in its report and according to the findings, these businesses reported stronger financial performance, were more innovative, and recorded stronger customer employee and satisfaction. Despite these positive results, the report also found that, among the women surveyed, fewer held senior vice president, vice president, director, or manager roles in 2021 compared to 2019.

Commenting on the findings, Senior Vice President of Global Markets at IBM and Senior Executive Sponsor of the IBM Women’s Community Bridget van Kralingen said:

“The data show that many women leaders are experiencing challenges at this moment. If these issues are not addressed more deeply than in prior years, there is a risk of progress backsliding further. We should seize creative solutions now and redouble our efforts to make meaningful, lasting change that can help all women reach their full potential.”

Those who were surveyed seemed less optimistic about programmatic efforts to address gender equity. 62% of women, down from 71%, and 60% of men, down from 67%, believe that their organization will significantly improve the gender equity situation over the next five years.

IBM's solutions

To address the issue, IBM recommended several things that businesses can try to encourage more women into lasting jobs. It said that firms should make gender equity a top-five issue and offer pathways for women to re-enter the workforce, for example, if a woman leaves to have a child and decides to get a job a couple of years later, she should be offered training, access to tools and technology, and receive mentorship and work assignments matched to her expertise.

Another solution that the firm suggested was that businesses should try to offer benefits such as back-up childcare support and mental health resources. IBM said that the best-performing CEOs ensure the well-being of their workforce even if it comes at the cost of profitability or budget.

Finally, IBM said that to accompany programs that get women into jobs, there also needs to be a culture shift that encourages team cultures and is flexible enough to meet people’s personal and professional needs. Before employees are hired, IBM said that businesses should adopt AI and other technologies that can reduce bias during the candidate screening process, boost investment in collaborative tools, and enable employees to work on-site and remotely even after the pandemic ends.

Data for this study was gathered from more than 2,600 executives, middle managers, and professionals from 10 industries across nine geographic regions. With the study being about gender equity, IBM made sure that the data it was collected was sourced from an equal number of men and women.

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