This conference offered several interesting workshops and I was delighted to be present for the panel discussion that Steve Fry, (Senior VP, HR & Diversity, Eli Lilly) and Jennifer Holmes, (Chairman and CEO, Central Logic), Integrating Women Leaders), were leading.

For the fifth consecutive year, Eli Lilly, a large Fortune 500 company, was named to DiversityInc’s “Top 50 customers for Diversity” which recognizes corporate diversity best practices. In addition, for the second year in a row, they received specialty honors for being a Top 10 Company for LGBT employees.

While this is not to be scoffed at, I think they know they are still only at the beginning of their journey.  A close look at gender equity prompted some serious work to look at their recruitment retention and development policies.

In 2015 this company re-initiated a study with the Family Workforce Institute to look at the Leadership potential of their workforce. At entry level there was almost a 50:50 ratio of men and women. However, when they looked at the executive level only 23% of them were women. As they examined the big data it was possible to clear up several myths.  Women had potential at least equivalent to their male counterparts, they performed as well as men, they do want to progress, and they do want parity in pay.

To identify why there was a deficit they replicated a model they had used for the life of a patient, from diagnosis to treatment, but this time for the life (journey) of a woman within their organization.

They unearthed some interesting information.

  • Women felt they had to stifle their authenticity.
  • They suffered Imposter syndrome, referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. (Occasionally they felt they had to mimic their male counterparts.)
  • More women believed the meritocracy myth – TheMeritocracy Myth exposes the deceptive American rhetoric that hard work, talent and virtue are all that is necessary to make it to the top.
  • The effect of the relationship capital of their employees had been underestimated. 70% of working women have a working spouse. Only 32% of working men have a spouse that works. This has a potentially large effect on the home life dynamic.
  • There was undifferentiated talent management and evidence of bias.
  • In addition there were some key limitations when they looked at job structure.

For example: Despite a good male, female ratio in Sales Representatives, they had few female sales managers. Historically, they had asked all potential managers to move to the city of their HQ for their training. Many of the female sales representatives were not the main “breadwinner” in their home; ergo moving was not an easy option. Thus they made changes to how they prepared reps for their next step, doing more “field” training.

Outcomes from this data means there is a comprehensive plan being developed to work towards gender equity.

  • Employees should have a development plan, with aspirational yet realistic goals and accountability.
  • Job structure is being re-evaluated to ensure that the design of certain positions does not eliminate women, either deliberately or inadvertently.
  • There is training on how to identify unconscious gender bias and eliminate that from all aspects of business so that there is inclusive leadership with opportunities to grow for everyone.
  • In addition they are encouraging mentors to cross age, gender, race or cultural barriers so that the understanding grows organically.

Personally speaking as an advocate for gender equity,  I would venture to suggest while admirable, they are a little late to the party! However, credit to them as they are on the journey and winning prizes; I leave you to draw your own conclusions about so many of the other companies out there. The day these topics are no longer being discussed at conferences, we really will have achieved something.