Is gender equality the new reputation driver?

21st October 2015

After decades of women demanding equal representation, it seems there’s still a long way to go when it comes to a seat in the C-suite.

At Weber Shandwick, we believe gender equality is an emerging driver of company reputation and will only become more powerful in the years to come. So, together with KRC Research, we sponsored a survey of 327 senior executives across 55 countries in North America, EMEA, Asia Pacific and Latin America, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit: “Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030”.

As the title suggests, the research reveals something of a paradox. Nearly three-quarters of global executives (73%) believe that gender equality in the C-Suite will be achieved by 2030. This is great, on paper.

But there’s no clear road map for making this happen. Most execs (56%) report that their company doesn’t actually have specific goals in place for achieving such an outcome, and only 39% of C-level executives report gender diversity in senior management as a high business priority, ranking seventh among 10 priorities.

In the absence of proactive steps, women appear to be developing “gender pipeline fatigue”, and believe that parity will only come through compulsory measures such as governmental mandates on equal pay.

But things are looking up. The research identifies several “push” forces that will move gender equality further up the corporate leadership agenda. These include increasing media and social media coverage of gender equality (there has been more than a threefold increase in articles worldwide about female CEOs since 2010), the need for companies to get better at attracting and retaining talented women, and growing acknowledgement that diverse gender perspectives lead to better financial performance.

More women are also aspiring to the C-suite, and for young people, gender equality in the C-Suite is a no-brainer. Three-quarters of Millennials (76%) say that it’s important to them, a marked increase over Gen Xers (44%) and Boomers (48%).

The research also looks at the roles of a group of companies and leaders, Gender-Forward Pioneers (GFPs), who are ahead of the curve in making diversity in senior management a reality.

GFPs are much more likely than non-GFPs to formalise clear goals for improving gender equality (58% vs. 37%), and 68% publicly share information about their gender equality efforts because they believe it enhances their reputation.

The Weber Shandwick GFP 2015 Index measures the percentage of Fortune Global 100 companies that achieved gender equality in their leadership ranks (and we’ll be extending it to the Fortune 500 by the end of this year). According to the 2015 Index, only 12.5% of senior leaders in the world’s top 100 companies are women. In EMEA, the figure is even lower, at 9.9%.

The findings of this study are a wakeup call.  Senior executives across EMEA must make a positive commitment to redress the balance of gender equality.

So how are we doing at Weber Shandwick? Aiming for equality in the workplace is a core part of our mindset and attitude. In London, 47% of our senior executives are women and 70% of the Weber Shandwick leadership across our seven offices in the UK is female.

We have reached this position because of the positive steps taken by our gender forward CEO, Colin Byrne, who champions a fair and balanced workplace. We will continue to support gender equality at Weber Shandwick and across the entire PR industry.

There’s still a long way to go but it seems we are close to a tipping point, with pressure building toward gender equality progress. Wise corporate leaders should heed the signs: companies without women in senior positions are going to experience the negative reputational consequences.

Click here to read the full report, including guidelines for achieving gender equality: an actionable framework for building a gender-forward reputation.