When Women Advance At Work, Men Do Too

"It is not that women rise when cultures are strong, but rather all people rise. This is why it is important to look at equality holistically,” says Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Accenture.

Accenture, the consulting firm, released the report titled, When She Rises, We All Risewhich summarizes key factors that contribute to creating cultures of equality at work. The findings are based on survey data of more than 22,000 working men and women across 34 countries.

“What this report looks at is characteristics that drive equality. Of course, women will benefit from a culture that is built around equality but men also gain an advantage.”

For many years, companies have been trying to understand how to make women successful. The tendency has been to rely on policies and programs that advance women.  However, this report highlights the critical role of culture in shaping women's advancement.

For example, the report highlights that women are four times more likely, and men are two times more likely, to rise to senior management positions in cultures that support equality.

“It is not just about creating things that help women. It is about leveling the playing field for men and women so they are both included in the dialogue around equality,” she says. In this interview, Shook outlines what organizations can do to create cultures of equality, which support both men and women to advance. 

Michelle King: What are the key factors to advancing equality in organizations?

Ellyn Shook: I like to think of the factors, or dimensions of culture, in three buckets. The first is around bold leadership. The second is around comprehensive action. And the third is around creating an empowering environment.

When it comes to bold leadership the true accelerators are when gender diversity is a priority for management. When diversity targets are set and shared. And when the organization clearly states its intention to close the gender pay gap. Comprehensive action is when organizations advance equality but include men. Men are on their networks and men take paternity leave. And creating an empowering environment is about not asking employees to conform to a dress code. As well as trusting and giving them the responsibility and freedom to be innovative and creative.

King: This approach is very different from current diversity and inclusion programs. How important is it to include existing policies and initiatives in this?

Shook: What really is very different about this is that when you have all three of these dimensions working together, you really are creating accelerators to build a culture of equality. That is when you will see the current policies and programs companies have been putting in place really take hold and start driving demonstrable change.

King: Why is culture so important in the advancement of gender equality? What role do men play in this?

Shook: I think men play an extraordinarily important role in creating empowering environment because organizations don’t change – people do. As men are 50 percent of the population, equality is really a shared problem. And it requires a shared solution.

While women are certainly advantaged by a culture of equality, men are 23 percent more likely to advance to executive level or above when there is a culture of equality. Cultures of equality are not there to just support women, they help all people to be successful.

King: What can companies do today to make a change?

Shook: Take a hard look in the mirror, and be willing to disrupt yourself. Set the tone at the top and be willing to ask yourself the hard questions. As leaders are you investing in technology to support work-life balance? Do you have zero tolerance discrimination and harassment policies? If companies just start asking questions and are willing to disrupt the status quo they will start to see things happen pretty quickly.