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CEOs’ new vow: Advancing more women at work

December 22, 2016
Diversity & Inclusion

More than two dozen chief executives of companies, including Bank of America Corp., LinkedIn Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp., have signed a pledge to speed women’s progress up the corporate ladder.

The corporate commitment is the opening salvo of “Paradigm for Parity,” a drive by a new group dedicated to achieving gender equality in the upper echelons of American companies by 2030.

Its game plan, to be announced Wednesday, demands that businesses set measurable targets for women’s representation at every level, train employees in spotting hidden biases, and ensure influential senior men sponsor promising women.

The idea came from a handful of female executives frustrated by the slow pace of women’s advancement, said Jewelle Bickford, a partner at Evercore Wealth Management and a co-chair of the coalition.

A larger group of executive women held brainstorming sessions and conducted research to develop a road map for quickening the pace of gender equality.

They then sought other high-powered male and female executives to join the charge, drawing nearly 80 corporate leaders, board members and academics.

“We are driving actions that can make a difference in creating a step change because the progress for women is not there,” said Ellen Kullman, a coalition co-chair and former head of DuPont Co.

The group hasn’t decided yet how it might hold business bosses accountable for fulfilling its detailed game plan. Committed CEOs are expected to privately swap details about their progress, and are urged to consider public disclosure.

Women now hold 19% of C-suite roles, a slight increase from 17% in 2015, according to research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. Getting to 50% “will be challenging but is attainable,” said Nicholas Akins, head of American Electric Power Co. and a coalition member.

Some diversity experts believe more drastic steps are needed, given the slow pace of change. Committed CEOs should publicly report their progress annually, focus on putting more women into operating roles and set closer-range targets for parity at the top, said Jeffrey Tobias Halter, president of YWomen, a corporate gender consultancy.

At AEP, where two of Mr. Akins’ six highest lieutenants are women, the CEO said “we are at varying stages of development,” especially when it comes to identifying sponsors for high-potential female leaders at the electricity producer.

A pilot project begun this May identified and trained 40 executives to serve as sponsors, and they are now choosing protégés, an AEP spokeswoman said.

Across companies whose chiefs joined the pledge, broader usage of sponsors “is probably one of the bigger areas of change,” Ms. Kullman said.

Pierre Nanterme, another chief executive signing the parity pledge, vows to intensify his pursuit of gender equality at Accenture PLC, a global consultancy.

In March 2015, Accenture set a goal that women would represent at least 40% of new hires world-wide by 2017.

Hiring managers surpassed the 40% mark during the year ended Aug. 31, Mr. Nanterme reported. He said he would multiply Accenture’s diversity initiatives, such as by expanding the use of gender-neutral job descriptions. The firm may widen its female applicant pool by using “blind” resumes that lack names.

By next spring, Mr. Nanterme expects 50 CEOs will support the Paradigm for Parity campaign.

He plans to personally recruit more business leaders. “If I am unable to bring in one,” he said, “I will be deeply disappointed.”

By Joann S. Lublin

Source: Wall Street Journal

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