6 March 2020

Gender diversity in the workplace: a win-win

This year, the theme of International Women's Day (8 March) is #EachforEqual. But are an International Women's Day, gender diversity and gender equality still relevant topics in 2020? And especially for us, in Belgium?

We have a shared sense in Belgium that gender equality is proceeding well. But the numbers show a more nuanced picture. Every month, the WEF (World Economic Forum) publishes rankings on gender equality. Although there is a strong focus on equal opportunities in the labour market, other aspects are factored into the ranking (from violence against women to women's access to education). While Belgium has been among the top ten in the worldwide rankings for many years, in 2020, we are only at number 27 on the list. According to WEF, the equality gap in our country is the same now as it was 10 years ago.

Gender diversity and equality is not just about bridging the pay gap (which in Belgium is 9.6% for hourly wages). It is also about equal opportunity in the labour market, representation in managerial functions, representation at policy-making levels, opportunities to study and opportunities for a reasonable work-life balance as a woman and mother. 

Gender diversity and the economy

For many reasons gender diversity is an important area of focus. Especially on the economic front. There are various reasons for this:

  • If a company reflects their customer's community, the customer will have a better connection with the company and the brand.
  • Studies show that gender-diverse companies perform better, financially. Diversity leads to more creativity and innovation. Having more varied visions and perspectives leads to better insights.
  • Gender diversity is also important in terms of recruiting. Companies who want to attract the best candidates must be attractive for every candidate, regardless of gender or background.  
More gender diversity, but how?

It is not enough to parachute a few women into a group of men and hope that that alone will be a solution. Creating an inclusive environment in which everyone is open to listening to one another is also imperative. Female role models can also have a catalytic effect: if you can see it, you can be it.

That is why it is vital to construct an atmosphere in which women (and men) are given room to grow. For example, by offering a work-life balance that avoids putting extra pressure on care roles at home, by working on career planning, etc.

What does gender diversity look like at ING?

‘Just as with other banks, a large number of women start in junior positions. But, the proportion of women decreases in middle management. And the higher you look in the organisation, the fewer women you find,’ says Katrien Goossens, the Cross-border Diversity & Inclusion Lead at ING.

"In recent years, the team has done a lot of research to identify causes,’ she adds. One of the issues they discovered was that job adverts often use masculine language. Terms like “go-getter” and “work hard/play hard”, among others, often discourage women from applying for jobs, whereas this has no impact on men. Even though research shows that women are more likely to be recruited than men, so it is not a lack of skills.

ING strives to achieve at least 30% representation from each demographic group, within each division. This 30% is not an arbitrary number. Research shows that a threshold of 30% is required in order to attain sufficient qualitative representation.

ING Lioness

ING's flagship initiative is its Lioness mentoring programme. Adeline le Hardy is one of its enthusiastic participants. ‘I entered the programme because I felt I needed a reference point for my career; an extra sounding board, outside of my daily operational work environment,’ she says. Her mentor, Sabine, works in a completely different department, and that is a big plus. ‘She fulfils her role as mentor with a great deal of dedication. But because she is also “far away”, she is able to offer advice objectively.’

'Mentorship is not a one-way street'

Sabine Desantoine stresses. ‘Adeline has, for example, more experience with working with people from different cultures. When I worked with a colleague from India for the first time, I wanted to know if I could, or had to, take certain factors into consideration. Thanks to our contacts, I discovered elements that I wouldn't have otherwise been aware of, from my perspective.’

ING Lioness also organises informal events for employees interested in growing their network and to raise awareness of (gender) diversity within ING.  

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