Lisa Kimmel, Chair & CEO, Canada, & Chair, Latin America & Global Women’s Equality Network, Edelman
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a time to both celebrate women’s achievements and reflect on how far we still have to go to achieve gender parity in society. This year’s campaign theme, #BalanceforBetter, seems particularly poignant after a year of reckoning in the workplace. There’s no question that 2018 was a catalyst for real change – from #MeToo to #TimesUp – but it also highlighted just how much gender inequality still requires our time and attention.
As the organizers behind IWD point out, balance is not a women’s issue – it’s a business issue. The repercussions of gender disparity have a significant impact on trust in our institutions and, in turn, on progress in society.
Many in the business world understand the imperative for change and have formal initiatives in place to champion women’s advancement. Yet while many of these initiatives start with the best intentions, it’s easy for them to become outdated and ineffective if they’re not continuously improved and measured for impact.
We realized the need to progress our efforts with our own Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN), which was established by global president and CEO Richard Edelman in 2011 with a clear objective to advance women into leadership positions at Edelman. Back then, the original goal was to achieve gender parity in our offices by 2016 – and when that didn’t happen, Richard addressed it openly and honestly – with a clear plan of action to achieve it.
Fast forward to 2018, and we realized we needed to pivot again in light of a year with such profound implications for women in business. We formed a new working group with a select group of employees from all levels, in all regions, to discuss GWEN’s evolution. Together, we updated our strategy to focus on providing opportunities, access and growth for women across all career levels at Edelman.
That led us to where we are in 2019: no longer the Global Women’s Executive Network, but the Global Women’s Equality Network, with a refreshed mission to continue to foster an environment that is both safe and conducive for women of all backgrounds to enjoy equal opportunity to grow, lead and succeed in and beyond Edelman. Specific initiatives planned include global mentorship programs; biannual global pay analyses to ensure equal pay for equal work; and the introduction of a GWEN4All initiative to encourage everyone to get more actively involved with GWEN regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or belief.
It’s crucial to continuously re-evaluate and benchmark efforts to ensure they remain relevant and meaningful. Here are some additional ideas for those in the communications industry to consider:
Partner with external organizations: Look for opportunities to grow your efforts beyond just what’s happening internally. Edelman has forged partnerships with the International Women’s Forum, G(irls)20 and United for News, to make an even broader impact on the issue of gender disparity. We also recently signed on to the United Nations WE Empowerment Principles to promote economic empowerment of women at work through responsible business conduct in G7 countries.
Practice what you preach: We’re committed to gender balance across the board – including in the spokespeople we nominate to speak on behalf of Edelman. This includes media opportunities, speaking engagements, written thought leadership, internal meetings, etc. We’ll also be encouraging our female clients to be public-facing through media interviews, speaking opportunities and thought leadership activities to build equity, trust and familiarity.
Develop tangible tools for success: Women with profiles in the public eye or social media can often find themselves the victims of hate speech and trolling. Similarly, in media interviews, they can often be asked “can you have it all?” or be faced with equally insulting questions that ask how they manage career and family life instead of being allowed to focus on their business expertise. As part of our partnership with United for News, we’re working on the development of communications training modules for women that look specifically at how they can build their profile as experts in their fields, while protecting themselves from the “dark side” of social media.
It’s up to all of us to ensure we’re creating an environment where women can become their best. Creating #BalanceforBetter doesn’t have to require massive investments – but it does require a commitment to track progress and pivot as needed along the way.
About the Author: Lisa Kimmel is Chair & CEO, Canada, and Chair, Latin America and Global Women’s Equality Network at Edelman. She’s been inducted into the Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame, is a Financial Times & HERoes Female Champion of Women in Business, and most was most recently recognized by the Toronto YWCA as a 2019 Women of Distinction recipient for Corporate Leadership.