As the father of an eighteen-month old daughter, I believe that gender equality is critical for ours and every other industry. When we improve diversity, we improve our access to talent, creativity, and insight. I believe that more diverse teams are more successful because they consider a greater range of experiences and perspectives.
By increasing the number of female leaders, company culture and talent, decisions are improved, retention rates improve, and there is a greater likelihood that knowledge will spread broadly throughout the organization via mentoring programs.
A report by a major European bank regularly finds that companies with a higher participation of women in decision-making roles can generate higher returns on equity, higher valuations, better stock performance and higher payouts of dividends. The report from 2016 stated that among 3,000 companies surveyed, having a woman in the managerial ranks has increased a company’s return on capital by 3.3 percent over the past decade. And companies in which women make up 15 percent of management are 50 percent more profitable than those with less than 10 percent.
A key starting point for diversity in the chemical industry is education, and although the numbers of women enrolled in STEM subjects is growing, there is still room for improvement. A 2017 study by a major intergovernmental organization of higher education showed that women make up only 31% of STEM students globally, and the attrition rate for female students is high. Even once they finish school, women leave STEM jobs at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.
Still, with more women receiving education in STEM fields overall, how can we persuade them to pursue the chemical industry as an option? I feel strongly that change must come from the top, and if the industry is going to be successful at attracting more women, senior leadership must believe in the need for change.
Where do we go from here?
I believe there are concrete steps that we can take to improve gender diversity in the industry. We can make it easier for women to see themselves working in the industry, and we can increase their chances of success by actively seeking out a more balanced set of job applicants and working from diverse candidate pools. If possible, positions should be left open until a diverse pool can be established.
Once women are employed within the industry, establishing an inclusive culture, with support from the top, is essential. Management must be held accountable for meeting diversity goals, and internal groups and programs that will help women feel included should be created and supported – I believe strongly that for these to be successful, men must also be deeply embedded and involved. Access to support, mentorship opportunities and coaching are all vital.
KPMG’s research shows that many women are not yet confident in asking for promotions, seeking positions beyond their expertise, or requesting access to senior leadership. Providing more encouragement for women to drive their own careers forward can only benefit the industry.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, putting women in leadership roles will lead to greater gender diversity , both because organizations with women leaders hire more women, and because women may be attracted to companies where they can see that other women have already achieved success.
We have seen a lot of progress in recent years, and although the 2018 WEF Future of Jobs report (PDF 2.5 MB) showed that expansion of gender parity wasn’t on the list of important trends driving industry growth in the chemical industry, there are already many successful women leaders in chemical organizations around the world. However, there is still an awfully long way to go. Nascent steps have been taken, but chemicals continues to lag behind many other industries. It is time we started to see equality as a business imperative – matching genuine actions with good intentions.
The future of the industry depends on it. My daughter and many other little girls like her depend on it.