Gender Diversity

Practical examples from the Businesses in the Gender Diversity arena: a long but developing topic.


The World Economic Forum estimates that the global gender gap – the time it will take for women to achieve parity in the workforce – is currently at 117 years. No Board of Directors would ever wait for 117 years to implement any other business imperative offering, yet, there are corporations that are just waiting for gender diversity to knock on their door in the next century. On another note, market research proves women are by-far the main decision makers when it comes to purchasing food for the household, but, when we look across the Top 10 FMCG companies globally, only 17% of the Executive Committee members are women. The business still thinks it is a great idea for men to take the vast majority of the decisions on products that will be purchased, and probably consumed, by women. The data continues to disconnect as an EY survey shows that 84% of companies in the Consumer Product and Retail sector declare they need to do more to attract, retain and promote women, but of these, only 18% have a formal program to do so.
Although current data may not be encouraging, it is possible to see the increasing interest of both companies and governments globally to start tacking this issue. Regulators in Germany and Switzerland have been proposing ways to measure the pay differences between men and women as a way to push the private sector to deal with the issue, and hopefully expand actions to close the gaps. The UK will apply strong gender pay regulations before the end of the year. Italy has quotas for women on Boards. From an internal perspective, leading companies that lack of gender diversity are preparing for the potential impact on the business, for example; P&L effect, litigation risk, talent attractions and leadership pipeline. As the business leaders buy into the topic and place gender diversity as a top priority in their agenda, it is important to get insights on what are some of the most successful D&I programs applied in different locations across the globe. A few are identified for you below.

Maternity leave coaches

The transition to becoming a mother is a major turning point in women’s lives. Finally, there are companies that added this factor to their talent retention strategies. One very effective program is to provide individual coaching sessions to pregnant women. Taking about motherhood versus career should not be a taboo in the workplace and preparing women to face this difficult moment has proven to be very effective, and much cheaper than losing a talented professional. In one specific example, coaching sessions were separated in two waves; before and after maternity leave. The first were focused on discussing the difficulties a woman may face in her career during the transition, the second wave supported a woman to readjust to the workplace and understand her limits before being tempted to quit her job. This program showed the increased women’s retention by 40%.

Diversity for Men

Separating men and women in D&I programs may end up building male and female silos but sometimes it is important to focus on the conversation and actions to get the needed attention from each perspective. Most senior business leaders today are men so involving this audience in the D&I strategy is crucial. Men can close the gender gap by making diversity a personal priority. They have to be a part of the change agents for the gender diversity programs to be effective. Trainings that explain what unconscious bias is and the difficulties that women face in the workplace can prepare men to be better leaders and better mentors. If companies guide men to buy-in the cause, then men can support actions like “bringing a woman to the table” where every man is responsible to organise decision-making meetings where at least a certain percentage of women are actively present.

Supplier Diversity

One of the most radical yet interesting D&I programs being discussed are the supplier diversity programs. Once a company has established a good standpoint on their internal diversity programs, they can start applying these as a supplier requirement. A specific program, for example, has dedicated resources to support the growth and development of small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the US. This company not only prioritizes buying from these businesses but also supports them through mentoring initiatives, through leadership, sponsorships, and onsite programs. In other cases, companies have applied diversity KPIs to their supplier check-list as a part of the purchasing requirements. The idea is that diversity becomes a part of company’s values and therefore it makes sense to request suppliers to be aligned with such values.

Karolina Cardoso – EY People Advisory Services manager - MBA 2011
LUISS Business School IMBA graduate (class of 2012)


About the author: First time I heard about Diversity Management was during my International MBA at LUISS Business School. Never could I think that a subject in a MBA course could completely change my career path. Today I support clients in building strategies to hire, retain and engage women in the workplace. Today I have two children under three and a full-time job in consulting and feel in my own skin the importance of managing well a gender balanced business environment.

Sources: *Case study on Google Corp. Extracted from studies on effects of paid maternity leave, by Maya Rossin-Slater and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and Christopher J. Ruhm of the University of Virginia.
FMCG decision making research: Mindshare/Ogilvy & Mathler
20-First research – Data by Sector (Consumer Good)
Will the glass ceiling become a performance ceiling? EY research: