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“To truly change the landscape for women, we all need to come to the table.”

In a speech to the Committee for Economic Development, Paradigm for Parity® Co-Chair Jewelle Bickford discussed what motivated the 47 women to launch the Paradigm for Parity® movement, what makes the initiative unique, and what’s next for the coalition. The full transcript of her speech can be found below:

"Good morning. I’m honored to join such a prestigious group of amazing people who share our commitment to increasing the participation of women in corporate leadership. I especially want to thank the subcommittee co-chairs, Debra Perry, Jane Stevenson and Margaret Morrison for their leadership on promoting women and for giving me the opportunity to talk about a movement that is very important to me, the Paradigm for Parity®.

Today I will speak on three different topics.  What prompted me personally to initiate the Paradigm, why we provide a unique value proposition for companies, and where we go from here.

As women in business, you have seen just how discouraging the statistics are. As a reminder for us all, there are only 32 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 list. And as you drill down into the companies, women represent 46% of entry-level professionals but only 29% of vice presidents and 19% of c-suite executives, according to the Women in the Workplace initiative (2016).

And many of you have had to fight the lonely female climb up the corporate ladder to get to where you are today. When I started my career, there were few women in top positions in the corporate world. It was hard for me to envision a path toward a leadership role, no coaching or sponsor to help me succeed.

And even as a young woman, I remember being criticized for the very things that young men would be applauded for – being inquisitive, sharing my opinion, or challenging certain norms. About fifteen years ago I was going through my high school reports and noticed a theme. Teachers would say things like “Jewelle is naturally disputatious” or “Generally speaking, Jewelle is generally speaking”. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are funny quotes but when you think about it they’re rooted in criticism of my being a curious and outspoken child.

My curious tendencies developed from my having lived in nine vastly different cultures before I was married at 20, including – St. Joseph, Missouri; Anchorage, Alaska; Rome, Italy; and Ridgecrest, North Carolina – which is a fundamentalist Baptist retreat - to name a few. The exposure I had to so many different ideas, experiences and so many different possibilities taught me that there isn’t just one way to reach a goal. As an adult, I like challenges and I used that knowledge from my childhood to think strategically about business possibilities. This skill became the attribute that propelled my career in investment banking.  I was fortunate enough to find that critical sponsor, in David de Rothschild, who ultimately promoted me to Global Partner in the Rothschild Group.

I am confident that everyone in this room has a story – or probably even 100 stories – that sound somewhat like mine. The gender gap is industry-agnostic, profession-agnostic, and geography-agnostic.

While the ubiquity of the gender gap is discouraging to us all, it also creates a tremendous opportunity for stakeholders across the spectrum to come together to talk about these challenges openly in order to create change. We are in the midst of a moment in time where it is both the right thing to do to grow business results and there is much broader acknowledgment that women face very real hurdles to reaching leadership positions. We are seeing this acknowledgment come from many places – from forward-looking HR professionals and CEOs, to academics, to reporters.

In fact, a few years ago, I was reading a New York Times story by the reporter Claire Cain Miller that discussed the landscape for women in corporate America. She explained that women had made no progress from 2000 to 2015. And that was true almost uniformly across every industry.  The very fact that I was reading about these issues in the press was notable to me – that Times story was my big “AHA” moment.  Why were women doing so poorly? It became very clear to me that the best hope we have at solving this problem would be forging a fundamental paradigm shift in the workforce.

So I reached out to two close friends, Ronee Hagen and Ellen Kullman, both of whom were CEOs of major companies, Ellen of Dupont and Ronee of Polymer Group. We recognized that if women like us don’t step up and fight for change, change will never come. We couldn’t just rely on male executives to take up the cause on their own. They need pressure and support from women who are passionate about achieving parity and have the experience to know just how to do it and, most importantly, what will actually work.

In June of 2015, motivated by our past experiences and united in our frustration with the lack of progress, a group of 47 female CEOs, senior executives and board members of Fortune 1000 companies spent a weekend together grappling with how to achieve gender equality in leadership positions. All the women we brought together had extensive first hand experiences in companies or working with companies to create inclusive environments. Every woman said a version of “this is important to me personally. I see it as part of my responsibility." We knew something had to change to achieve the future success we dream of for our daughters and granddaughters.

Going into the offsite meeting, we used the research from the many organizations that also sought to elevate women in the C-Suite and on Boards – whether it’s Catalyst, McKinsey, the 30% Club, Lean In, EY or others. They provided the research and data that made the problem crystal clear. And many of us had been involved in these initiatives over the years. But the statistics demonstrated there was much more we could do.

Eventually, after many plates of pasta and even more wine, we decided that the missing piece of the puzzle was an action plan for CEOs to follow. We had heard enlightened and thoughtful CEOs express to us the desire to achieve gender parity, but didn’t know how best to accomplish it. It wasn’t for a lack of good intentions. We knew that a guide was needed. And we had the right women in the room that weekend to create it. To our knowledge, this is the first time a group of female CEOs and senior executives had come together with the sole purpose of creating an action plan for gender equality in corporations.

This was how Paradigm for Parity® was born and it remains the heart of our program today. Our 5-point action plan for CEOs is the first set of specific steps that, when concurrently implemented, will catalyze change and enable companies to achieve gender parity in leadership positions. Individually, these points aren’t new. And standing alone each action item does very little. But what is new is when implemented simultaneously there is a synergy among the five points working together that will jump start change.

Our road map’s five steps include:

1. MINIMIZE OR ELIMINATE UNCONSCIOUS BIAS.

Initiate unconscious bias training. Engage men and women at all levels, starting with the CEO and senior leadership. Ensure that your company leaders comprehend, own and address the conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding. Personal bias will probably always be with us but structural biases that impact hiring and promotion can be eliminated.

 

2. SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF WOMEN IN SENIOROPERATING ROLES

Make full gender parity (50/50) your ultimate goal. As a near term goal, target that a single gender will not account for more than 70% of a leadership level, from the Executive Management Group downward. Move to 60% as a medium term goal.

 

3. MEASURE TARGETS AT EVERY LEVEL AND COMMUNICATE PROGRESS AND RESULTS REGULARLY

Set measurable goals within the company and hold yourself and your senior team accountable. Communicate your base line and future results to your wider organization and board. Expect meaningful progress each year, with the aim of parity by 2030. Work with investors as they increase the pressure to measure and monitor diversity progress. Share statistics with other CEOs and consider publishing results over time.

 

4. BASE CAREER PROGRESS ON BUSINESS RESULTS AND PERFORMANCE, NOT ON PRESENCE.

Give women and men control over where and how they work, whenever workable. Acknowledge the needs and expectations of Millennials, an important talent pool. Find ways to work more flexibly to meet the needs of all employees. Create cultural change so that working flexibly is embraced, and not an underused and over talked about benefit. 


 

5.  IDENTIFY WOMEN OF POTENTIAL AND GIVE THEM SPONSORS, AS WELL AS MENTORS.

Meritocracy is an often used, and more importantly misused, belief because our biases affect our view of performance and merit. Women of all backgrounds need career sponsors and access to networks of influence. Men, who are still the majority of leadership, have a critical role to play in advocating for women, both internally and in the wider corporate world. Look for the best within your organization and help them to succeed by assigning each woman a mentor and a sponsor.

When simultaneously implemented, we believe these 5 action items will enable companies to understand their baseline, improve their intake and manage with a diversity mindset.

Paradigm for Parity® has been in existence just two short years and only public since December of 2016 but we have received strong, positive support. Today, we have 56 companies as signers that have committed to following our action plan and achieving gender parity in leadership levels by 2030. Large companies ranging from Coca-Cola to LinkedIn to Walmart and especially Accenture who has been a true partner from the beginning. In fact, CEO Pierre Nanterme has gone one step beyond and committed his company to gender parity by 2025, five years earlier than we are requesting.

To truly change the landscape for women, we all need to come to the table. Our hope is to get a majority of the Fortune 500 companies committed to taking this pledge. And we have a short-term goal of 100 companies by the end of this year.

Ultimately, the biggest selling point for companies who join us is that gender parity is good for employees and good for business. The facts speak for themselves. According to Credit Suisse Research, companies with 50% women in senior operating roles show 19% higher return on equity on average (2014).  A move from 0% to 30% female leaders in companies is associated with a 15% increased net revenue margin, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (2016). Anyone who has been in the Board Room or in the C-Suite knows that data ultimately beats opinion. And these compelling statistics elevate gender parity from something that’s nice to have to something companies need to have. It is an essential investment for any business.  

How many women do companies attract, retain, promote and sponsor? These are the barometers that we plan to measure and the data is critical to demonstrating our success.

Paradigm for Parity® is unique—the coalition is the first movement to focus specifically on actions to bring women of all backgrounds into corporate leadership and has designed a definitive action plan for CEOs and their leadership teams. 

We are entirely funded by our members. We all have skin in the game here and want to see the goal we’ve set get reached. We are truly focused on collaborating to identify new companies to get on board and providing the most thoughtful and effective resources to support them as they seek to achieve gender parity. We want to see a world where we will no longer refer to Ellen Kullman and Sandra Beach Lin, my co-chairs, as extraordinary female leaders, they will just be known as extraordinary leaders. Period.

On behalf of Ellen and Sandy, I want to end by thanking you so much for the opportunity to speak about the Paradigm for Parity. We will continue to get the word out about our initiative – and welcome anyone compelled by our mission to do the same. In 10 years, I know we will all look back at this point in time and be incredibly proud of what we accomplished together."