How we Inspire Inclusion on International Women’s Day

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are central to addressing some of the world’s unprecedented global crises, including food insecurity and climate change, conflict and violence, and economic growth, writes Nimmita Maharaj, Diversity and Transformation Director, Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric.

According to the World Bank no country, community, or economy can achieve its full potential without the full and equal participation of women and men, girls and boys. For example, addressing gender-based violence is essential for peacebuilding and stability.

Nimmita Maharaj

This International Women’s Day, we once again need to take stock, even with the many awareness campaigns and various organisations driving this priority, have we seen noteworthy progress?

There is some good news, recent research reveals some hard-fought wins at the top, with women’s representation in the C-suite at the highest it has ever been. However, with slower progress in the middle of the pipeline and thus a persistent underrepresentation of women of colour, true parity remains a challenge.

In the past the ‘glass ceiling’ was seen as the biggest barrier to women’s advancement in general; the ‘broken rung’ or colloquially referred to as a broken step on the proverbial ladder, is now considered the greatest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership.

For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, the stats show that only 87 women are promoted – hence women are still falling behind. Since men significantly outnumber women, there are fewer women to promote to senior managers, and the number of women decreases at every subsequent level, and so progress remains stilted.

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Actionable measures and firm results at Schneider Electric

At Schneider Electric, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an integral part of who we are and what differentiates us. We want our people, no matter who they are or where in the world they live, to feel they belong and are valued. That is how we drive innovation, engagement, and high performance. Our DEI ambition is to provide equal opportunities to everyone, everywhere and ensure all employees feel uniquely valued and safe to contribute their best.

We believe in supporting the growth of young women professionals through sponsorship and mentorship programmes to develop their leadership skills. But mostly, it is important for them to visualise themselves in these roles which means there needs to be female role models they can emulate and celebrate on every step of the corporate ladder.

Schneider Electric’s involvement in for example the annual Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) Conference speaks volumes of our commitment to inclusion and willingness to support organisations with common goals.

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We remain committed to increasing gender diversity in hiring (50%), front-line management (40%) and leadership (30%), showing good progress against all three since 2021, and intending to double down on efforts this year. Schneider Electric’s Inclusion and Care by Design’ strategy, is embedded in all our processes and behaviours – ensuring that inclusion is hardwired end-to-end, with clear accountability.

Besides female representation and the various female leadership programmes, we have committed to and made huge strides in areas such as:

  • The Schneider Electric Pay Equity Framework to address the gender pay gap, has been implemented in all countries, since 2019, covering 99% of Schneider Electric’s total workforce.
  • The new Global Anti-Harassment policy defines Schneider Electric’s global position on harassment and demonstrates our commitment to zero-tolerance on harassment, including sexual harassment.
  • The new Global Family Leave policy aims to strengthen our reputation as a company of inclusion. What defines family, life and work is changing every day. By supporting our employees with personal time at the moments when it matters the most, we empower them to manage their ‘unique life and work’.

A concerted effort

Organisations need to constantly review how they can do better or do more to support female empowerment. It is particularly important to cultivate an environment of sponsorship at leadership level, and for female role models to show what can be achieved and what other women leaders can aspire to.

Creating psychological safety will ensure that women feel safe to speak up about issues and challenges that apply to them without feeling like this may impact their careers negatively.

Providing opportunities for women to connect to one another and share their journeys, both inside and outside the organisation, will support and facilitate personal and professional growth. All these efforts will go far to address the imposter syndrome and allow women to feel comfortable with who they are and see their worth. 

However, women cannot do this on their own; they need their male colleagues to understand what is going on for them, what their challenges are and how to support them. It should not be ‘women versus men’, but rather a chance to help everyone rise together by providing the same opportunities for women to succeed.

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Gender equality is a fundamental human right and essential for a more peaceful, prosperous, and liveable world. As a society and at an organisational and individual level, we all need to commit to inclusive hiring practices, the visibility of women in top jobs, and ensuring the upskilling and career growth opportunities for women, particularly in high-growth and high-earning sectors like STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

We need to act now, so on this International Women’s Day I say to all stakeholders; let’s take the first step by committing to #InspireInclusion.

Main photo: Designecologist, Pexels