Like many founders, we are lucky to work in a field that is our passion. Every day we help people understand the power and impact women provide in leadership roles. We have worked in every region of the world. Kristin has built programs and consulted governments in difficult contexts like South Sudan and Afghanistan, not exactly places well-known for empowering women. And Jessica has advised women political candidates running for top political positions in our states and the country. We have advised women who are changing the status quo, redefining gender norms, and becoming “firsts” in their fields. In every case, we are helping others better appreciate the value that women bring, explaining that difficult problems will be better solved when women and men work together to tackle them.
When people talk about gender diversity and inclusion, most ask about the numbers. How many women are in leadership, management and so on. We often hear the phrase, “we have a lot of women at our company.” But while tracking the numbers is essential, these data points only paint part of the picture. They are simply a snapshot of a challenge that is much more complex.
Today, the United States is ranked 102nd globally in women’s political representation. That means 101 countries have more women in elected office than we do. And the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index ranks the United States 49th globally when measuring for gender disparities in the key factors of politics, education, economic, and health opportunity. As you would probably agree, neither number is good. But while these numbers have significant room for improvement, they are only a piece of the gender diversity puzzle.
Beyond analyzing the numbers, we also must look at culture. Culture reflects the tangible ethos and experience of a place, company, or organization. It represents the values and priorities of the people who make it up. And, it can help people to thrive — or do just the opposite.
While the numbers in the U.S. are low, we have witnessed and tracked a much more robust cultural conversation throughout the American media about that fact that there is a lack of women in leadership. This is something that we do not always see in other countries that rank much higher than us. This cultural discussion is huge. For example, American culture has developed in such a way that has allowed for movements like #MeToo to resonate, take hold, and begin to transform that national conversation about sexual harassment and abuse. #MeToo was hardly the first-time women have spoken up about this pervasive problem in the workplace. But we have developed the cultural underpinning for a wave of activism that has become a movement.
Much like the culture of a country, a company has a culture that is a living, dynamic part of an organization that needs development, nurturing, and appreciation. An organization’s culture, and the way it reacts to the support for women is immensely important when it comes to building a place where women truly feel like they can thrive. This is why we must be intentional about addressing culture head-on and examine organizational values — and how they are borne out each day in the workplace. These cultural dynamics are essential for sustained inclusion, but are often missed. As we continue to tackle and struggle to build gender diversity in nearly every company, organization, and region of the world, we hope you will also look well beyond the numbers.