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Gender Equity Doesn’t Happen by Accident, We Have to Own It

Nearly one year ago, countries across the world came together to discuss a new sustainable development agenda - the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - resulting in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to guide countries toward “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” by 2030.

From access to education to gender equity to fighting poverty to mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change, the SDGs build on the past Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) while calling on all countries, developing and developed to play a role in a sustainable future.

In a recent report by DNV GL – The Future of Spaceship Earth – the company analyzes the potential for meeting each of the SDGs. I was asked to specifically discuss SDG Goal 5 and the future of gender equity and women’s empowerment. Although numerous challenges still remain, I highlight my optimistic outlook for our future and how promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace is not just part of Symantec's commitment to ethical operation; gender-diversity is emerging as a brand-defining aspect of our culture and operations.

Women hold up half the world, but traditionally they've not had equal access to its riches. Gender issues are often embedded in cultural norms, which can be resistant to change.

Although DNVGL’s Spaceship Earth Assessment predicts that Gender Equality will still be a challenge across the world in 2030, Symantec's Cecily Joseph has a refreshingly positive outlook.

“I've never felt as positive as I do right now,” she says. “I feel very optimistic because there is so much focus and attention on issues like women’s empowerment, equal pay, getting more women into technology and into leadership roles, and more girls into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) education than ever.”

While Joseph admits that her personal perspective is tech-focused, in 23 years working in the industry, she sees more urgency and energy around this topic than ever before. "So I feel that the future of this conversation is very bright and very positive."

Women hold up half the world, but traditionally they've not had equal access to its riches. Gender issues are often embedded in cultural norms, which can be resistant to change.

Symantec solutions

Gender equity is arguably one of the most global of all the SDGs for our workforce. "Gender issues translate - the goals that we set are global goals," says Joseph. "Our employees and our customers are very global and our workforce needs to emulate that. Women make up half the population of the world, and they should be equally represented in the workforce."

A proactive intention, backed by Symantec’s executive leadership, resulted in a shift over just two years from 10 % to 30 % representation on the Board of Directors. The company also set goals around the percentage of women in leadership (at director level and above), launching projects to develop females inside the company.

Not only did the Symantec board recruit for women, it deliberately looked outside its usual channels and traditional networks to draw from a broader and more diverse pool of skills and talent. Joseph points to two recent female board appointments, a retired Air Force General, and an Irish corporate banker, as examples of the kind of breadth and diversity that make a corporation more robust, as well as more representative. In an unusual move, Symantec didn’t insist that possible directors already had served on a public company board. This common requirement – of prior board service – is one reason that boards have appointed so few female directors,” says Joseph. “In this way we contribute to expanding the number of women in leadership globally.”

The area of cyber security presents a serious global threat – as well as significant opportunities for bringing more women into the field. "In every country we do business there is a shortage of cyber security professionals and talent that understands the cyber security landscape. Within that talent pool there are even worse numbers when it comes to gender. If you look at technology there are probably 18 % of women in tech as a whole, but in cyber security there are probably around 10 %."

Symantec launched a programme of rapid education to increase the numbers of women and people of colour within the cyber security space, bringing them to internships and jobs at entry-level positions within a one-year period. After launching the programme in the US, they recently expanded it to India.

Business contributions

A scarcity of women in top positions isn’t limited to the tech industry. A study released in 2015 by McKinsey & Co. and non-profit LeanIn.Org showed that even though women and men are almost equally represented in entry-level positions, fewer women get promoted to each higher level. By the time women reach senior vice president, they represent just 23 % of the positions, the study said. C-suite representation is even less at just 17 %, according to the study’s data, which tracked 118 companies, including 26 in technology. “We’ve lost women every step of the way,” said Lareina Yee, a partner at McKinsey & Co.

As Danone's CEO, Emanuel Faber, reported to the French Ministry of International Affairs, “Women’s empowerment is crucial to achieving fair development. They are, in many cases, subject to such severe discrimination that it is necessary to focus on their empowerment as a matter of priority, without which development can be neither fair nor sustainable.”

Joseph suggests that more businesses should adopt the women's empowerment principles from the UN Global Compact. “It's an incredible framework for moving the needle on gender equity, not just in one dimension, but across the whole company. It points to how you can have an impact and embed gender equity into everything, from talent management to your customer facing areas, how you invest in your community, and how you constitute your board and establish governance. I think that more companies should not just sign on but truly adopt them and integrate them.”

Joseph would like to see collective action and public commitment from her industry. “Companies should collectively adopt goals. For example, in tech we could set a collective target for higher representation of women, and adopt certain practices that will help us all move there.”

Besides Symantec's commitment to STEM education, Joseph points to innovative opportunities to encourage more women to switch to technological fields. Business should explore more creative ways to bring women into technology – especially if they've been deterred from pursuing technology at some earlier point in their education cycle.

“We often get caught up in this debate about the small pipeline of women coming out of schools with technology backgrounds. But there are many supporting jobs in technology companies, especially the larger ones, which are not tech jobs. You are hiring people in marketing, in human resources, in legal, in finance, in sales. You can reach some gender equity goals by looking more broadly at bringing in a more diverse population.”

There is still a long way to go, but the journey starts with setting clear goals and being intentional about changing the culture around gender. “These things don't happen by accident. I think companies have to own that.”

Cecily Joseph is Symantec’s Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Diversity Officer ******

This piece was originally included in DNV GL's report, Spaceship Earth


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