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HollywoodSignJAN09An all-white roster of acting nominees at the 2015 Academy Awards inspired the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on social media and increased scrutiny of the lack of diversity in the ranks of the organization. The Academy’s 7,000 members are largely white and male.

What would your CEO think if there was a new hashtag #OurCompanySoWhite that was gaining traction? In the case of Hollywood, the Oscars and the Emmy’s, the issue is not only race, but is also gender. Women are bringing the issue to the surface.

Consider these examples:

  • Gender swapping: How convincing was Academy award-winning actor Charlize Theron’s action-star work in this summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road? Good enough to swap genders of the lead character in her next movie. Sony Pictures is in talks with her to come aboard The Gray Man, an adaptation of the Mark Greaney novel that at one time had Brad Pitt ready to star.
  • More gender swapping: Caught in an ambiguous middle ground between a political drama and comedy, the new film Our Brand Is Crisis manages to balance itself adequately for most of its running time. Most of the film’s charm and power however is due to Academy award-winning actor Sandra Bullock. Bullock commands the lead role originally intended for a male counterpart (and the film’s producer) George Clooney as a tough-talking political strategist who has seen better days and is now staging an overdue comeback.
  • Use data to drive forward: Speaking to a packed room of influential women and men, Academy award-winning Thelma & Louise actor explained how her strong onscreen roles inspired her to commission studies about gender on screen. The results were shocking: on average women take up only 17% of parts – including crowd scenes – and are just as sexualized in family films as they are in films for adults. Two of her suggestions:
    • Scripts should read “a crowd, half of whom are women, gathers…”
    • When a producer gets a script, reverse the gender of all the roles and see what new and wonderful dynamics can occur.

2000px-Igualtat_de_sexes.svgHow could these gender lessons translate to your organization? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use data to drive forward. Are your leaders aware of the gender demographics in STEM careers and key departments such as engineering and IT? Recent studies show that 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge. At about the 10-year mark, in their mid to late thirties, 52% of these talented women quit their jobs. And they don’t come back. Given the amount of time that it takes to get employees up to speed at a company, does it make sense to lose these talented individuals?

“Cisco stands out, perhaps, for the boldness of its new Executive Talent Insertion Program. Having determined isolation to be one of the most serious problems facing female executives, Cisco decided to develop a “game changer.” Designed to ensure that within 18 months, women will come to represent 25% of the senior management team, this program will create a critical mass of senior women in one fell swoop.” ~ Harvard Business Review

  • Rethink job interviews. The question: “What do you think your salary should be?” should be abolished altogether, as women consistently ask for less than men. Instead, interviewers should provide a fair and transparent salary range and ask applicants to position themselves within it.
  • Make gender equality part of training and education. Young people should be supported in choosing jobs that are future-oriented and promising, regardless of their gender.
  • Be proactive about welcoming women. Companies should clearly state that they want to hire, support and promote women. Salaries and promotions should be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure equal treatment.
  • Make flexibility and work-life balance a part of the wider company culture. Too often, employees have to specifically ask to work part-time or work from home, which can be awkward. Companies should instead offer a broad range of different options.
  • Don’t limit your talent pool. Companies should aim for a 50-50 gender split in all their teams – right up to the executive floor. Offering practical support such as childcare, is part of this, as is the right attitude. It should not be a career killer for a man to ask for extended leave because he wants to look after his children.
  • Use coaching and the power of networking. Networking, mentoring and coaching opportunities can help women build confidence and develop their careers.

And remember the tip from Geena Davis when creating teams to work on projects. “A team is assembled, half of whom are women, to meet the goal.”