More than two dozen high level industry professionals and academics gathered at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business for an open and honest dialog on gender equity in the workplace on Oct. 23. The intimate, invitation-only gathering, sponsored by the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute, enabled participants from across sectors and industries to discuss how research can impact the real-world problems they are facing in their organizations.
Stacey Aries, executive director responsible for talent and diversity within Corporate and Investment at JPMorgan Chase, chose to participate in the dialog because it shifted the conversation away from company programs and policies and toward the root causes of gender inequity.
“The draw for me was that it was about approaching an old problem in a different way,” she said. “I walked away from the workshop saying, ‘Wow! We could actually change the conversation here!’”
Aries plans to introduce a number of key learnings into JPMorgan Chase’s talent and diversity programs.
The day began with some of the executives sharing their issues with the group, including “How do changes at the corporate level – like a new dress code – affect women?” and “Why aren’t more women in leadership positions?” Faculty from Carnegie Mellon, Lawrence University, Harvard, University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, and Washington University shared their research, laying the foundation for discussions on both organizational level and individual level interventions.
The structure of the workshop allowed participants to brainstorm solutions and collaborations with each other.
“It was great to have the time to spend with diversity professionals and counterparts to share practices in our collective attempt to address the gender dilemma,” said Jean Wynn, managing director and chief administration officer at BNY Mellon.
During lunch, a participant recounted how, despite structural changes that had been put in place at the company, she had to pick up the phone to say, “If you don’t promote Jane, I have another department that is ready to offer her a higher position.” That phone call was the spark that the office needed to promote the employee, for fear of losing her to another department. The story sparked a discussion at the lunch table of how women in higher positions must serve as advocates for other women and minorities across the organization.
“Challenges remain, yet every one of the participants said they benefitted from attending, learned a great deal from other participants, and would come back again,” said Catherine Tinsley, faculty director of the institute. “The path forward is actually quite clear – the challenges are to build trusting relationships within and across corporations and academia that pave the way to devise and carry out the experiments needed to rigorously test equity interventions.”
Taken together, the conversations throughout the day emphasized that those at the highest levels in the organization need to believe in the value of diversity, and that gender issues will require creative and complex solutions.
Participants also underscored that men are a key part of the solution – they need to understand the landscape, show support, and understand some of the subconscious biases that are at play.
Peter Glick, a professor at Lawrence University, shared his research on “benevolent sexism,” which he argued can hinder women’s progress. According to Glick, the stereotype of “I love women, but they need extra protection and help in the workplace,” can mean that women are not considered for challenging projects or leadership opportunities. Awareness is an important first step.
“The collaboration between business, industry, and academia has the potential to be very powerful,” said Deborah A. Elam, president of the GE Foundation and chief diversity officer at General Electric. “We are just scratching the surface.”