March 8, 2019

More than Numbers: #BalanceforBetter


Better the balance, better the world: aptly the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2019, celebrated every year on March 8.  It is a day when we celebrate the social, political, and economic achievements of women throughout the world– while also campaigning for greater progress on inclusion and parity.

The corresponding numbers often are cited and represent a clear need for “better balance.” The United Nations estimates that globally women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, for work of equal value. Despite comprising more than half the population, women occupy less than 25 percent of the parliamentary seats globally, which is consistent with the United States Congress. In many countries, women suffer disproportionately from poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to healthcare. Hitting close to home, although women represent almost 50 percent of the labor force, only four percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.

Just as frequently referenced is the business case:  the cultural, social, and financial impact of having “better balanced” teams, including gender diversity. In McKinsey’s 2018 “Delivering through diversity” report, gender diversity correlates with both profitability and value creation: companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to outperform their peers on Earnings before Interest and Taxes margin and 27 percent more likely on longer-term value creation using an economic profit margin measure. There are countless examples of strong business cases for diversity, and they are an important testament to the progress needed and the benefits that could be reaped.

That said, we do not just need to bring attention to the numbers: we also need to balance the approach.  Since 96 percent of men lead Fortune 500 companies, we need to engage more men in the discussion. We need to help “Well-Intentioned Men” lead the discussion on gender inclusion in the workplace. Patiently and thoughtfully, women need to take the time to provide practical suggestions with a healthy dose of humor to balance the discussion.

Men must get involved, and women need to collaborate in a meaningful and respectful way. Many companies are now aware that they need to make gender inclusion a priority, but the results are not happening fast enough.  

This slow pace is due in part to the sheer size and complexity of today’s corporations. For companies with locations that span the globe, it takes a long time to extend lasting initiatives out from the epicenter of the organizations. The call to action needs to be for “inverse support”—education and support for men who want to be part of change, and even for men who don’t yet realize that they can be part of the change. Working together, men and women can understand, approach, develop, and advocate for change--and begin building an inclusive work environment that benefits everyone beyond the numbers to a better balanced solution. 

About the author: Jessica Poliner is the vice president and general manager for the Global Marine, Rail and Air (MRA) divisions of Thermo King, a brand within the Transport Solutions business of Ingersoll Rand. She is based in Brussels, Belgium, and has lived and worked in various countries across the world.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a Juris doctor degree from Marquette University. In addition, Poliner has completed graduate work at University of Buenos Aires and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. She is also a published co-author of “[Un]Skirting the Issues: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned Man in Today’s Workplace,” which was released in September 2017, and is an avid speaker on gender parity and unconscious bias.