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EY Would Like to See Fewer Old White Guys at Davos Talking About Diversity

The World Economic Forum saw a "controversial" drop in female attendees last year, and hopes a participation rate of 17% for women this year might make up for that. Coincidentally, a CNBC report on this threw in a dig from EY on the overall attitude toward women and what they are doing about it:

Calls for companies and organizations to do more to promote women are nothing new – although there are plenty of interpretations of why women often don't do as well as men with similar abilities in the workplace.

"Without a little nudge, it's easy to gravitate toward colleagues and leaders who think, look and act like we do," Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY global vice chair of public policy, said as part of a report by the consultancy called "Women. Fast forward: The time for gender parity is now."

"Unconscious bias on the part of those in power is undoubtedly partly responsible for the glacial pace of change."

Yes, we're all a little secretly racist/sexist/homophobic on the inside, some of us less secretly than others. But there is also a conscious bias, the guilt over which is balanced out by feel-good diversity initiatives that sound lovely on paper to a round table of old white guys.

World Economic Forum research released last year and shared by EY's Women. Fast Forward (oh dear) states that we will not reach "global gender parity" for another 80 years. Meaning none of us will see it in our lifetimes:

It’s been more than 200 years since the Industrial Revolution sent Western women into the workforce in large numbers. It’s been more than 150 years since women gained access to higher education in Western countries. It’s been more than 90 years in parts of Asia and 80 years in parts of South America since women gained the right to vote. And there are still many places around the world where women do not have the right to vote or hold a job, attend college, create a business or rise to leadership positions in companies or countries.

Eighty more years — that’s four generations — before women achieve gender parity in the workforce, closing the 60% gender gap for economic participation and opportunity worldwide. It’s already been too long. Must we wait so much longer?

That's a rhetorical question, yeah?

Some may ask why we should act — is this just a “feel-good” exercise?

It's like you read our minds!

No one can argue there isn't a gender gap in the highest levels of industry and government. But here's a wild idea — just because women make up half of the world's population, how can we assume a large number of them aspire to run companies, sit on boards, or seek political office? Just as previous discussions about the lack of women at the partner level in public accounting firms despite the fact that women make up just slightly less than half of accounting graduates, it's entirely possible this gap exists by choice, not by the unconscious bias of a bunch of old white guys running the show. At least here in the United States, where women can do everything men can.

EY Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger (yup, not a woman) writes:

As we think about the keys to growth, we realize businesses, nations and economies cannot afford to wait another 80 years to fully engage the talent of the world’s women. For EY, as for others, accelerating women’s progress is essential not only to the creation of a better working world but also to our success as a business. We’re focused on making a difference for women within EY and in the wider world — and we believe it’s time to accelerate our efforts.

At the heart of EY’s strategy are high-performing teams. Those teams have to be diverse and inclusive. As leaders, we’re responsible for setting the right tone. We have to help people understand why diversity and inclusiveness are important, hold ourselves accountable, and expect the men and women on our teams to work together on solutions. For instance, diverse and inclusive teams are included in one of EY’s six metrics for our 10,000 partners around the world. And behind that expectation is a comprehensive plan to drive accountability throughout EY.

Curious here what exactly those "diversity metrics" mean. Are partners pressured to build teams that look like a stock photo of "diverse_team_working_in_office.jpg" or are they building strong, talented teams from a pool of diverse candidates?

Let's face it, the Man Men days are long behind us. We may have a way to go but we've also done a pretty good job of extending equal opportunities to women. How much further do we have to go and will it really take 80 years?