Adrian Gonzalez
Oct 17, 2017

Businesses need to wake up to gender parity realities

Research to dig into your employees' attitudes and experiences, including inevitable local nuances, is a good place to start, writes Kantar's regional CEO.

Businesses need to wake up to gender parity realities

We work in a world of dynamic organizations, cultures and brands. We strive to think progressively, challenge the status quo and deliver future-focused ideas and campaigns. And we’d like to think that this approach is reflected in the way that we run our companies, resulting in a diverse workforce of happy employees who feel equally valued and included.

However, it’s not always easy to gauge the real situation on the ground. Large multinational organizations know the challenge well. While the company ethos may celebrate diversity and promote equal opportunities, the extent to which this reaches every employee in every country is debateable.

As regional CEO of Kantar, a global insights consultancy, I can attest to the difficulties faced when trying to understand the attitudes and opinions of employees within each of the local markets. This is especially challenging in Asia, with its multitude of cultures, behaviours and working styles. But as a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure we’re listening to all of our employees—not just broadcasting to them—so that we can truly appreciate their experiences, evolve our ways of working, and ultimately, the performance of our business based on their feedback.

One of the most pressing issues for companies today is gender parity within the workplace: ensuring equal pay, equal opportunities and equal representation within organisations. This isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’. It’s a core business issue that’s relevant to every organisation wanting to be successful in today’s market and into the future. It’s proven that companies with diverse workforces do better work, nurture happier people and grow faster.

But even with all the right policies and programmes in place, can you truly say that it’s working? How do you know whether you’re on track to reach gender parity? Even within Kantar I know that despite some fantastic programmes, there is still a gender imbalance at the top, and that we lose many talented women from our teams as they struggle to balance family commitments.

We needed to address this and start from ground zero to build up our understanding of the situation, free from any preconceptions. As an insights consultancy, we took our own medicine and surveyed over 3,000 employees from across the region, both men and women. We asked a wide variety of questions; about their experience within the business, their motivations, their ambitions for the future. We asked about perceptions: how they view themselves and how they think they are viewed by others. And we asked what would improve their experience working with Kantar.

The findings were incredibly insightful, both at a regional and local level. We found that there was no shortage of ambition among the women within our business, and that both men and women had re-evaluated the characteristics that determined success, opening up a more diverse range of leadership styles. However, in some markets, some ‘developed’ countries included, we discovered that unconscious bias was still a big problem; in other markets we saw that there was a need to address barriers to leadership positions.  

Each country had its own nuance, and in each a local leader took ownership of the results, began a dialogue with employees and worked through what we could be doing better. It became the starting point for the conversation, and the job is not done.

One finding that particularly resonated with me was the need for greater flexibility that was called out strongly by both men and women. We learnt that flexibility means different things to different people; from being able to pick your child up from school, to being able to do an exercise class in the morning, to taking time off to look after sick parents. Again, this isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’. By unpicking these tensions we can start introducing practices that benefit everyone within the businesses.

What disturbs me is the extent to which unconscious bias exists in some countries that we typically describe as ‘developed markets’. In these instances, management might say all the right things about the importance of equality and inclusiveness in the workplace, but in reality project ‘boys club’ behaviours without knowing it. If you are a leader and you believe in this stuff then you have to walk the talk—and as a very wise Kantar colleague recently reminded me, walk the talk at home as well!

Our business success is based on a deep understanding of people. The more diverse we are, the better insights we can build into our clients’ audiences, and subsequently, the better we can support their business growth. It is crucially apparent to me that for Kantar to continue to be successful in the future we must lead, foster and preserve a culture of equality and inclusiveness. We have an incredibly talented workforce—our people are indeed our biggest asset—and we need to make sure that every diverse voice is heard, as diversity is a rich source of innovation and inspiration. This will ensure that we keep the best people in our business, can offer the best minds and solutions to our clients and, to some degree, move the needle in the right direction to make a positive contribution to society.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that one of the greatest obligations of CEO is the culture we lead. This starts with an ambition for the type of organisation you want to be part of and authentically going for it. Unfortunately, not everyone in the 21st century gets this, but I am blessed to work with many people who do.

Adrian Gonzalez is CEO, Insights, for North Asia, Southeast Asia and Pacific at Kantar.


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