Gender Diversity: Is the Global Playing Field Leveling?

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]T[/su_dropcap]HAT WAS the question considered at the recent Colloquium on Global Diversity convened by I’ve always found the use of a sports metaphor, “Creating a Level Playing Field” an odd choice as a theme for an event on gender equality but nevertheless, I’ve found this to be an unparalleled forum for the dozen years that I’ve been attending. And this year was no exception.

This invitation-only event brought together about 70 global leaders in the fields of Diversity & Inclusion, talent and communications for a day and a half of collaborative learning and dialog. The discussions included data and measurements (“Quantifying the Business Case for Gender Diversity” from one of several vendors in attendance; “Market Update: Is the Economic Recovery Here?” with Nela Gender EquityRichardson, Senior Economist, Bloomberg Government and “Gender Diversity on Boards of the Retail and Consumer Products Industry” by Irene Natividad, Chair, Corporate Women Directors International) as well as generous sharing of the practices in place at some leading organizations (“Changing Workplace and Family Culture” from AT&T, L’Oreal and the country of Iceland; “Developing Women’s Leadership Across Industries and Across Borders” with Daimler, MetLife, Manpower and Oracle” and “Knowing and Growing your Career Capital” by Accenture).

I was honored to moderate a panel called “Understanding and Managing Millennial Men Globally” with speakers from Mazars, Ernst & Young and McDonald’s.  This topic combined two areas of interest: the attitudes of the millennial generation entering the workforce and the engagement of men in gender diversity efforts.  Marie-Laure Soulié, Group Communications Director at Mazars, shared the findings from their What Do Men Think? study of 750 young men across 60 countries. The encouraging news is that 88% of millennial men accept gender diversity, viewing expertise and professionalism as more important than gender. That’s great news, particularly when you compare it to a comment quoted from a man in an older generation that, “You can easily see that we are physically different, it’s only normal then that we are not equal.” (And he’s only 37…attitudes are changing rapidly!)

One of the liveliest events of the Colloquium was the roundtable discussion held over dinner on “Battling Diversity Fatigue”.  A glass of wine and intelligent, passionate participants made for an energizing discussion.  While the “more experienced” professionals in the field were willing to share stories of frustration and exhaustion, what could have become a “gripe session” was animated by people new to the field who are feeling optimistic and hopeful.  As one participant said, “fatigue comes when you no longer believe you can change things”. For me – having been doing this work for a long time – it was great to be reminded that a sense of confidence and possibility can still prevail. And that change really can happen. Juliana Oyegun, launching a new career after retiring from the World Bank, reminded us all to maintain a “sense of wonder” in our approach to the world.

There were also a significant number of concepts introduced, questions raised, and insights shared from individuals’ experiences in the field:

  • It may be important and valuable to engage men in a D&I dialogue as early in the process as possible.
  • Many organizational professionals maintain the implicit, unconscious assumption that “differences are bad” – this is something we can address explicitly.
  • Some D&I professionals are moving toward an emphasis on Inclusion, rather than on Diversity – as Aida Sabo of Cardinal Health noted, “If you have ten white men in a room, you have diversity…what we need is inclusion!”
  • Some D&I professionals have found success in broadening their definitions of Diversity, beyond the conventional categories, to include dimensions such as diversity of thinking, experience, and communication style.
  • Most Gen-Y employees are not afraid to ask challenging questions; while many Baby Boomers are.
  • A few organizations inspire women to ask probing, explorative questions that seek answers beyond the initial/conventional answers, with a “yes…and?” approach.  One observer noted that those women who’ve gone through such development programs have seen “their confidence go through the roof.”

With my own “diversity fatigue” lessened, I’m interested in continuing the dialog. Is the playing field leveling for women? Will the millennial generation usher in an era of gender equality at work – and at home? What more needs to happen to close the gender pay gap?


Margaretta Noonan
Margaretta Noonan
While still a senior executive at a global company, Margaretta Noonan started asking herself, “Am I All There?” After several years of exploring the topic of employee engagement – her own included; Margaretta co-founded ngage, a technology-enabled solution that creates a continuous connection between employees and managers about the issues that are critical to organizational success;. Margaretta spent 30 years in Human Resources and senior leadership with global Fortune 500 companies in the retail and professional services industries. Knowing that a company is only ever as strong as the talent inside it – in addition to ngage, Margaretta heads a woman-owned consulting business, noonanWorks (, dedicated to working at the intersection of employee engagement / customer engagement and financial results.

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