What is the experience of a woman in corporate America today? She probably hears a lot about diversity initiatives from the leadership of her company, but she probably has precious little to show it, save a smattering of diversity days, mentoring programs, employee advocacy groups, and other gender programs. Boards and senior leadership at her company remain stubbornly male, and women continue to earn less than men for comparable work.
But what can she do about it? She might suspect that she is underpaid, but societal taboos keep her from comparing her salary with colleagues’ pay. She may be familiar with her company’s benefits and workplace policies, but she has no way of comparing them with its competitors’; the same is true of companies’ records on advancing women. And if she thinks about moving elsewhere to find a route through the glass ceiling, she has no way of truly gauging the culture of those rival companies and how women are treated there.
The good news is that all this is changing, driven in large part by technology. Emerging tools are giving women a host of new ways to empower their professional lives. The implications for companies are significant, as women amass the means and the resources to dramatically change the game. After all, women now control massive resources: In the U.S. they direct 80% of consumer spending and control $5 trillion in investable assets.1 They jointly control another $6 trillion, according to the Center for Talent Innovation. Women make up just over half of the workforce.
The first change that will empower professional women is the increasing availability of actionable information related to companies’ gender practices. Salary information that allows women to measure their personal gender pay gap is already available from GetRaised, Payscale, ZipRecruiter, and Comparably. Hired takes it one step further, offering a marketplace in which companies bid for talent. That can serve to close the gender pay gap pretty quickly. These solutions are not perfect, but they are a start.
Information on company cultures is available at startups like The Muse. The female-friendliness of company cultures and their policies in particular are being crowdsourced by startups like Fairy God Boss and Doxa. And this information is not just available about the companies we work for: Buy Up Index provides rankings of the gender-friendliness and progress of companies we buy from, while Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund (I am the chair of the fund) and the SHE E.T.F. provide the means to invest in the top companies for advancing women.
What’s more, professional women have more options than ever. In the workforce, the choice for professional women is no longer to stay, go to a competitor, or go home. Entrepreneurship is an increasingly viable option. While many VCs still have a bias toward men, many women-led angel investment groups are springing up (Astia Angels, Broadway Angels, and Golden Seeds, among others) to fund startups led by women. One investment level below that, women-led projects do better on crowdfunding platforms than men do. Broader technology trends have reduced the cost of starting a new business for all entrepreneurs, such as the move from servers to cloud computing, from long-term leases to shared workspaces like WeWork, from business travel to video conferencing, and from employing all full-time employees to hiring some freelancers. At the same time, freelancing is becoming a real option for many women as infrastructure springs up to support that career path. There are even websites (such as Hired and Working Not Working) that make freelance rates transparent, which should close the gender pay gap pretty quickly.
There is evidence that women are increasingly using these tools. The number one reason Millennial women leave their jobs today is to get a pay raise.2 Extend this thought, and one can quickly foresee an environment in which professional women work for, buy from, and invest in companies that align with their values. This could be driven by women acting individually in their own best interests, as Millennial women are; it can also be amplified by women coming together around these issues. The rapid growth and proliferation of professional women’s networks, such as Ellevate Network (of which I am the chair), Upward Women, Women 2.0 and Levo League, is evidence that women are increasingly coming together around these issues. Here social media can serve as the virtual town square.
The companies that offer women fair pay and a level playing field will accrue the benefits of improved business performance that studies have so thoroughly outlined, and potentially become the employers of choice for women. These companies will also become more likely to serve this important market well, and become even more attractive to female employees, investors, and consumers, creating a virtuous circle.
And those that continue to drive lots of activity but little progress on diversity? They’ll have the comfort of not having to do the truly hard work of building diverse cultures, since they will be fading away.
The Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, managed by Pax Ellevate Management LLC, is the result of a partnership between Pax World Management LLC and Ellevate Asset Management LLC, whose principal is Sallie Krawcheck. Pax and Ellevate came together because they share the same vision about the critical role that gender diversity plays in business success over time, as well as the investment opportunity associated with investing in women. Pax has long been a recognized leader in investing in women and advocating for greater representation of women on boards. Ms. Krawcheck, one of the most powerful advocates for women in the financial services industry, is Chair of Pax Ellevate Management LLC and a trustee of the Fund.
Pax World Management LLC, investment adviser to Pax World Funds and creator of the Pax Global Women’s Leadership Index,* is a pioneer in the fi eld of sustainable investing. Pax World integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) research into its investment process to better manage risk and deliver competitive long-term investment performance. Across all of its funds, Pax World withholds support from all-male corporate board slates, and working with other institutional investors, actively engages with companies to embrace gender diversity on their boards and advance women in the workplace. For over 45 years, Pax World has made it possible for investors to align their investments with their values and have a positive social and environmental impact. Today, its platform of sustainable investing solutions includes a family of mutual funds, as well as separately managed accounts.
* A custom index calculated by MSCI. One cannot invest directly in an index.
Ellevate Asset Management LLC was formed by Sallie Krawcheck to provide investors with a means of directing capital to companies that actively embrace gender diversity and female leadership as a lever for business success. Krawcheck also owns Ellevate Network (formerly 85 Broads), the global professional women’s network. Both of these organizations are dedicated to the economic engagement of women worldwide.
1 Center for Talent and Innovation, “Industry Misperceptions of the Female Investor Linked to Trillions of Dollars in Unmanaged Wealth,” May 22, 2014.
2 Christie Hunter Arscott, “Why So Many Thirtysomething Women Are Leaving Your Company,” Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2016.
This article originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website on January 25, 2017: https://hbr.org/2017/01/how-technologycan-help-close-the-gender-gap?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social. Reprinted with permission.