Preet Grewal
Jun 7, 2022

Moving beyond tokenism to create systemic change

Every year in March, as we celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, the issue of gender inequality in the workplace surfaces. And then people don’t talk about it as much, almost dismissing the existence of the problem; brands move on to the next event to relate to.

Moving beyond tokenism to create systemic change

While it is important for brands to celebrate women’s achievements and shine a light on the gender inequality that women still face, the road to a gender equal workplace has to be more than just a performative campaign or a hashtag and cannot stop after a particular month.

Consumers have become more discerning over the years and do not hesitate to call out brands for being inauthentic. We recently saw this when a Twitter bot, @PayGapApp, responded to brands’ Tweets with a Quote Tweet of the company’s gender pay gap on International Women’s Day.

“You can’t say that you’re doing really well for equality if you’ve not got the numbers behind you to support it,” said Francesca Lawson, co-founder of the account, in an interview with Washington Post. “We don’t want to see nice headshots of your female employees. We don’t want to see panel discussions that you’re running. We want you to tell us how you’ve identified your problems, what you’re doing to fix them, and if you have something to shout about, if you’re doing really well — well, show us the data.”

After a month of creative campaigns and meaningful initiatives for consumers, brands need to reflect on their own efforts in fostering gender equity within their companies. How many women are there in leadership roles? Are women paid equally to their men counterparts?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 highlighted that the pandemic has increased the time it will take to close the gender gap on its index from 99 to nearly 136 years. women have found themselves struggling to manage work and the pandemic-spurred impact at home. In many households, women are the primary caregivers, and ‘living at work’ plus parenting responsibilities have forced many to opt out of the workforce.

It is disappointing that the gains we have been celebrating around gender equity—both social and economic—have significantly scaled back during the last few years. More than ever, it is important for brands to use their influence and make real progress in advancing gender equity for women.

Brands need to push past tokenism and implement meaningful change, and marketers are important allies because they are the gatekeepers of how a brand is perceived – not just by the public, but by employees too.

So what can be done to enable systemic change within companies?

Embed equity across the employee journey

Creating an environment that constantly empowers women employees to share and leverage their unique perspectives and experiences for growth is a must. To make this happen, it is important to think about gender equity across the whole employee journey, including recruitment, onboarding, pay transparency, and learning and development.

At Twitter, we believe that it’s necessary to grow with diversity, embed equity across all systemic programmes, and build an organisation on the principles of inclusion, belonging and accessibility. It’ll need a lot of work and we're here to do it.

Foster a culture of unequivocal support

Managers and teammates play an important role in instilling psychological safety within their teams, where women and other employees from under-represented communities feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their concerns and feedback.

There are also some internalised self-limiting beliefs that might hold women and those of other under-represented groups back from accessing the same opportunities. Research shows women negotiate less, ask for promotions at a lower frequency than men, and have a higher sense of ‘imposter syndrome’. Having business resource groups that are dedicated to support and empower women employees will foster a culture where they can bring their authentic selves to work.

Breaking the bias together

Personal biases, whether conscious or unconscious, are hard to eradicate. For inclusion, diversity, equity & accessibility strategies to have an impact on the outcomes we want, companies need to ensure that they are tackling systemic challenges and also guiding employees towards more inclusive behaviour.

We can #BreakTheBias by learning about biases, being aware of when or how they show up, and taking steps to mitigate them. At Twitter, we have structured training on topics like ‘Words Matter’,  ‘Breaking Down Bias’ and ‘Allyship 101’, and we host regular webinars with experts, most recently with world-renowned coach and speaker Em Roblin, who shared with us a practical tool that men and women should use to block gender bias before a presentation.

If a company wants to move beyond celebrating women on a single day or month and take real action to implement gender equity, they can help provide support and resources, ensure equity in policies that impact career growth, and cultivate a culture that fosters true belonging.

Every day should be women’s day. Collectively, we’ve got work to do in creating a truly inclusive culture across sectors.


Preet Grewal is the head of inclusion, diversity, equity & accessibility (IDEA) for JAPAC at Twitter.

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