Do Women's Networking Events Move the Needle on Equality? (by Shawn Achor, Harvard Business Review, February 2018)
Recently, I was flying home from the Conference for Women, where I had been invited to speak. I was carefully holding a copy of the conference program on my lap — my mom likes to save them, and I wanted to be a good son and bring her back an unwrinkled copy. The guy sitting next to me on the airplane noticed it and asked me about the conference. I told him it’s a series of nonprofits across the country that run conferences for women from all industries to talk about leadership, fairness, and success. He then surprised me by saying, “I’m all for equality, but I’m not sure what good a conference will do.” Done with the conversation, he put on his headphones, content in his cynicism as I stewed, trying to come up with the best, albeit incredibly delayed, response.
By the time I landed, I realized the best response to such a cynical attitude would be data. It won’t change anyone’s mindset to just claim that connecting women is “important” and will “have an impact at work and in society.” We need to show that it actually does. That’s why Michelle Gielan, best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness, and I partnered with the Conference for Women to see if we could test the long-term effects of uniting women. Spoiler alert: The results astounded even us.
In our initial study of 2,600 working women across functions and industries attending Conferences for Women in several U.S. states, we examined several outcomes that occurred in the year after the women attended the conference. Since women who attend a conference might be different demographically and psychographically from women who elect not to, we used a control group that was made up of women who signed up for a conference but had not yet attended.
As part of the study, we were looking for two types of positive outcomes in women attending a conference: financial outcomes (pay raises and promotions) and intellectual outcomes (increased optimism, lower stress levels, and a feeling of connection). Since we were looking at financial outcomes, we made sure the time period we studied was the same for the research group and the control group, to account for any changes in the larger economic landscape.
For the women who’d signed up for the conference but had yet to attend, 18% received a promotion during the time period we studied, compared with 42% of women who had already attended the conference. In other words, in the year after connecting with peers at the Conference for Women, the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled. (I wish I could find that guy on the plane to share this stat with him.)
In addition, 5% of the women in the control group received a pay increase of more than 10%, compared with the 15% of women who had attended the conference. That means that in one year, attendees had triple the likelihood of a 10%+ pay increase. (Remember, this isn’t selection bias — women in the control group were also signed up to attend a future conference.)
We also polled the women who’d attended the conference about how it affected their overall outlook. 78% percent of them reported feeling “more optimistic about the future” after attending. While we did not compare this with the control group’s outlook, this still seemed like a significant finding to us in part because of what we know about how a positive mindset can affect other aspects of life. In my HBR article “Positive Intelligence,” I describe how optimism can create a “happiness advantage,” where nearly every business and educational outcome improves as a result.
Perhaps most tellingly, 71% of the attendees said that they “feel more connected to others” after attending. This is important. In my book Big Potential, I outline why the greatest predictor of success and happiness is social connection. Research has shown that social connection can be as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking. There is power in connection. I start Big Potential with the story of a study of synchronous lightning bugs from Indonesia, in which researchers at MIT found that if lightning bugs light up alone, their success rate for reproduction is 3%. If they light up simultaneously with thousands of other lightning bugs, their success rate rises to 86%. By lighting together, they could space themselves out to maximize resources, and the increase in their collective brightness would help them be seen for up to five miles! I wrote Big Potential because I have found that if people feel like they are trying to get out of depression alone, or fighting inequality alone, or striving for success alone, they burn out and the world feels like a huge burden. But there is a powerful, viable alternative to individually pursuing success and happiness: doing it together.
I’m not sure every conference would have such a long-term positive impact. I have been to quite a few where either the conference is unengaging or the attendees are disengaged and on their phones. I think it’s safe to say there is an inverse relationship between the benefits you’ll get from a conference and the time you spend on your laptop or phone.
But the key to a beneficial conference, based on my experience speaking at more than 900 conferences over the past 12 years, are (1) a sense of social connection felt by the attendees, (2) engaging sessions, (3) leaders who role model and exemplify the qualities that the conference is attempting to instill, (4) a memorable moment, and (5) a realistic assessment of the present with an optimistic look to the future. Based on the responses of the women in this sample group, we see elevated optimism and social connection, as well as superstar role models (for example, Michelle Obama and Brené Brown also spoke at the event I went to). Moreover, many of the sessions offered practical applications for moving forward at work, such as how to ask for a raise, or stories from other women to let you know that your experiences at work are not unusual or isolated.
Laurie Dalton White, founder of the Conferences for Women, adds, “Something special happens when you see that you are not alone. Making connections and building relationships with other attendees and speakers helps women form an understanding of their worth, and then they learn strategies to ask for promotions, seek fair pay, and even become mentors to others. We invite women like Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg to speak at our conferences not just because of their own personal success stories, but because they are role models who inspire women in both big and small ways.”
There is power in connecting, and it’s not just about gender. Men and women alike can benefit from the power of connection. If you are a manager, encourage your employees to go to events where they can connect with others to remind them that they are not pursuing success and happiness alone. If you are a CEO, invest in conferences that help build up all members of your organization, regardless of where they sit in the organizational hierarchy.
We have so much more to learn about the value of connection in a hyper-competitive world. To the guy sitting on my plane: This research shows that cynicism regarding women’s conferences and initiatives is unfounded, unconstructive, and uninformed. To the rest of us seeking a positive path forward at work and in society, regardless of gender: We must pursue happiness and success together. Like the lightning bugs, rather than trying to light up the darkness alone and in isolation, there is power when we add our light to something bigger. In doing so, we shine brighter.
Shawn Achor is the New York Times bestselling author of Big Potential, The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. He serves as the Chief Experience Officer for BetterUp. His TED talk is one of the most popular, with over 11 million views. He has lectured or researched at over a third of the Fortune 100 and in 50 countries, as well as for the NFL, Pentagon and White House. Shawn is leading a series of courses on “21 Days to Inspire Positive Change” with the Oprah Winfrey Network.
“SPORT AS AN ENABLER FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT”: THIS IS THE TITLE OF THE RESOLUTION ADOPTED TODAY BY THE UNITED NATIONS (UN) GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN NEW YORK. IT ENCOURAGES MEMBER STATES AND RELEVANT STAKEHOLDERS TO EMPHASISE AND ADVANCE THE USE OF SPORT AS A VEHICLE TO FOSTER SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, ACKNOWLEDGING THE ROLE PLAYED BY SPORT AND THE OLYMPIC MOVEMENT.
The Resolution was adopted on the occasion of the presentation of the biennial report of the UN Secretary General on sport for development and peace. The report calls upon Member States to further the work on sport for development and peace at all levels, promote policy coherence, and foster existing national policies and government-supported programmes that leverage sport as a tool for social or economic development, and it recognises the important role played by the IOC and sports organisations in this field.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, explicitly stressed the role of sport in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, with this Resolution, the UN is reiterating its call to Member States to leverage sport to achieve the SDGs, working in collaboration with all the interested stakeholders, including the sports community, civil society, international organisations and business companies.
The Resolution points out the “invaluable contribution of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in establishing sport as a unique means for the promotion of peace and development, in particular through the ideal of the Olympic Truce, acknowledging the opportunities provided by past Olympic and Paralympic Games”.
It affirms the contribution of sport in promoting tolerance and respect and empowering women and young people, individuals and communities. The document also places a spotlight on the impact sport has on health, education, social inclusion and the fight against corruption, encouraging governments’ efforts to focus on these topics.
Just as importantly, the Resolution again supports “the independence and autonomy of sport as well as the mission of the International Olympic Committee in leading the Olympic Movement and of the International Paralympic Committee in leading the Paralympic Movement” in an effort to guarantee its universality.
Read the full Resolution here.
“We welcome the Resolution approved today by the United Nations, as it reaffirms the universality of sport and its unifying power to foster peace, education, gender equality and sustainable development at large,” IOC President Thomas Bach commented. “With its global reach, and its impact on communities and in particular on young people, sport can bring inclusion and empower people all over the world. Thanks to the UN, we now have a strong tool that encourages states and sports organisations to work together and develop concrete best practices. We want the Olympic Movement to be a driving force for a sustainable future for everyone.”
The universality of sport means that the IOC and the Olympic Movement have a special responsibility to promote a sustainable future for our world. This is why sustainability is one of the three pillars of Olympic Agenda 2020, the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement. The IOC has recently published its first Sustainability Report, which reports the progress made on the 18 objectives to be achieved by 2020 across all of the IOC’s spheres of responsibility: as the leader of the Olympic Movement, as the owner of the Olympic Games and as an organisation.
NEW YORK – Beyond giving a brand an image boost, achieving greater gender parity among employees and leadership can have an impact on a company’s bottom line.
At Haven Hill’s Symposium on Equality on Oct. 31, speakers conferred about the data behind the need for more gender parity, as well as the ways in which companies can take equality initiatives beyond hollow campaigns. While many organizations recognize the business benefits of gaining more gender diversity in their workforce, truly achieving change revolves around tackling tough topics and shifting culture.
"Millennials want companies that have values, and values are also about diversity," said Yann Borgstedt, founder and president of The Womanity Foundation. "If you want to keep your employees motivated or in your companies, you need to find ways to have more equality and diversity.
"You want to do what is right, but also we want to do what is good for the economy, and if it’s good for the economy, it’s good for kids and it’s good for everyone," he said. "So I just don’t understand why in so many places men feel threatened by giving the same rights and opportunities to women."
Mr. Borgstedt pointed out that while women represent about half of the population, they only hold 21 percent of senior roles and only 3 percent of CEOs are women. Women at the head of startups are also far less apt to get funding than men, despite the fact that female-led ventures tend to see better returns.
The data also shows that having more gender diversity at a company will help employers attract value-based millennials, while also boosting retention.
According to media organization Politico’s CEO Patrick Steel, his biggest challenge is recruitment, particularly because most Washington residents are already employed. Increasing the number of women in leadership positions at the publication has allowed the company to attract more female staff on both the editorial and sales sides.
Women who work for a female manager are 30 percent more apt to feel as though there is someone who is helping them advance. Politico also offers three months of maternity and paternity leave, opening the door to women to feel comfortable and secure about starting families.
There is a discrepancy between genders on beliefs regarding equality in the fashion workplace, with 100 percent of women thinking this to be an issue, while less than half of men do.
Attributed to the fact that there are many women designers in the fashion and accessories world, many men believe that there is no issue with inequality in fashion. According to a report from McKinsey, Glamour and the CFDA, women start careers in fashion with higher expectations than men (see story).
While there is a lack of gender diversity in everything from politics to corporations, one business that has seen little progress in parity is financial services. Today about 3 percent of women work in wealth management.
Alli McCartney, managing director with UBS Private Wealth Management, said that part of the reason her field is still male-dominated is because it is commission-based, making the potential for losing out while on maternity leave a challenge.
Despite this lack of women in the workforce in financial services, it is becoming increasingly more important for banks and institutions to cater to female clientele. About two-thirds of women say they lead their household, and one-third earn more than their spouse.
Additionally, women are set to inherit money through wealth transfer, and many who have been in the workforce are establishing their own assets. Divorces and deaths of spouses are also requiring women to be more independent about their finances.
Yet with this growing need for advice, women often do not seek out financial services. Three-quarters of women under the age of 40 have no wealth advisor.
Part of this lack of financial assistance may be tied to women’s dissatisfaction with services offered by banks. Whereas men desire results such as power, opportunity and returns from their wealth management, women report wanting aspects such as community and creating an impact and legacy.
Therefore, Ms. McCartney says soft skills will be imperative for wealth advisors of both genders. Managers can also win female clients’ business by offering flexible hours and building trust.
While recognizing the need for more gender equality is one thing, putting it into practice is another.
Progress in gender diversity has stalled in the last few years, according to Jeanne Zaino, senior advisor at AppliedTechonomics. Additionally, 20 percent of employees say that their company’s efforts around gender diversity are merely lip service to the issue.
Citing examples throughout history, Ms. Zaino said that those at the top need to make a commitment to change, but diversity initiatives need buy-ins from stakeholders to have a lasting effect.
Getting executive leadership on-board often boils down to speaking their language and showing the risks and rewards of making a change.
In addressing gender diversity, companies also have to look at issues on the local level, as challenges often differ depending on location.
Angela Lee, chief innovation officer and associate dean at Columbia Business School, spoke about overcoming biases and being unafraid to tackle tough conversations.
One thing companies can do is try to remove triggers for bias from their hiring process. For instance, orchestras began doing blind auditions, which resulted in more female musicians being hired.
In the corporate world, third-party services will take demographic indicators out of resumes to do merit-based matching for a position.
Companies may also want to think about how they are wording their job postings, removing language that appeals to certain types of individuals.
Ms. Lee also suggested opening up the door for healthy conflict by having meeting attendees fill out anonymous ideas of pros and cons to a particular plan. Companies can also spur innovation by pushing employees from different areas of the organization together, allowing them to gain new perspective and connections.
For women looking to move up the corporate ladder, Robert Reiss, founder and CEO of The CEO Forum Group, suggests taking on C-level language. Addressing plans as they relate to the organization’s mission and values can help an employee get on the top brass’ radar.
Owning a P&L is another path to leadership, as is identifying a personal brand and strengths and finding a way to show them off.
Lastly, establishing and training a successor opens the door for women to take on new opportunities, ensuring there is someone to take their place.
With only 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, Mr. Reiss sees reaching 50 as a goal. At this point, women will reach a critical mass where they can mentor each other and help others rise to the top position.
For women in luxury, the world can sometimes be a hostile place, which is why it is important for them to learn to work together and support each other, according to two entrepreneurs who have done so for 20 years.
At the Women in Luxury 2018 conference, Carrie Ellen Phillips and Vanessa Weiner von Bismarck, two women who have been working together for decades, spoke at length about their experiences as women and entrepreneurs as well as how to build a lasting partnership. One of the things they said elevated them to their current position was their joint work ethic (see story).
“You’ve got to make the investment if you’re going to make these changes,” Ms. Zaino said. “You cannot make a one-time change and then walk away from it.
“You have to continue to assess and reassess what has been the outcome of that reform,” she said. “Because reforms have unintended consequences, no matter if they’re positive or negative.”