While women's movements have existed for centuries and gender-equality work in companies has been underway for decades, there seems to have been an unprecedented rise in awareness around the issue of gender equality over the last year. Societal and organizational changes always involve multiple factors, however, recently two actions accelerated change on this topic. These are the emergence of the #MeToo movement and the roll-out of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Much has been shared about #MeToo, the grassroots movement that was started by human rights activist Tarana Burke. It has drawn women together around a shared sense of injustice and has helped create industry-specific networks to highlight problems and advocate change.
17 global goals
If you are not familiar with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, these are a collection of 17 goals set by the world's governments to guide global development until 2030. They are intended to end poverty, fight inequalities, tackle climate change and ensure prosperity for all people.
Achieving the goals depends on actions by all of society, including governments and the private sector. Goal number five relates specifically to achieving gender equality by providing women and girls with equal access to education, healthcare and political and economic power. It also has the ambitious aim of eliminating gender discrimination and violence.
Together these two forces – the grass roots and the geopolitical – have crystallized women's frustration with current structures and behaviors. They have inspired – and are continuing to inspire – change in the corporate world and the wider community.
#MeToo and the UN's SDGs have also been supported by other important changes in our collective thinking. One of these is the growing expectation that companies should play a larger role in solving global challenges. Another is the understanding that gender equality makes societies and organizations more sustainable, both socially and economically. Gender equality is now seen as both a goal in its own right and also the means to achieve such goals as better economic development, increased financial results, higher performing teams, and improved capacity for innovation.
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a speech at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting: "I'm talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women. Not because it's the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it's the smart thing to do."
At Skanska, we believe we have a very real role to play in helping to achieve gender equality and in helping to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, we see that we can positively impact the UN's goal of ending discrimination and ensuring women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership.
We are particularly pleased to observe an alignment between the SDG on gender equality and our own Diversity and Inclusion Vision. Through our vision, we are aiming to mirror society's diversity across all levels of our organization, to foster an inclusive workplace, and to become a leader in the field of diversity and inclusion. The vision is integrated in our business plan and values – a clear signal to employees and the outside world of its importance to us.
I'm delighted to say the work towards this vision is producing real, tangible results. Since 2012, the proportion of female employees in Skanska's 41,000-strong global workforce has grown from 12 to 17 percent, while the number of women at senior levels has grown from 13 to 22 percent. Additionally, all of our Nordic Construction units now have several women in their management teams and in roles with profit and loss responsibilities. Our consistent work to increase the number of women in the workforce and in particular in management roles shows how we contribute to SDG number five and ensuring women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership.
Positive results from employee survey
There are different ways of tracking change when it comes to eliminating discrimination. We track our employees' workplace experiences through our global engagement survey, which includes three questions related to our vision of creating an inclusive workplace. These ask whether employees agree with the statements: My workplace is free from discrimination and harassment; people in my workplace care for each other and treat each other fairly; and my manager makes the most of the diversity in the team to create better performance together.
If we compare responses that we receive to the first two questions with those received at other companies, we score respectively three and six percentage points above the cross-industry global benchmark. The topic of inclusive leadership, i.e. "my manager makes the most of the diversity in the team to create better performance together", meanwhile, forms the foundation for our internal business case for diversity and inclusion, including gender equality. Our analysis shows that there is a strong positive correlation between this specific question, retention and effectiveness. Leaders who are inclusive are also more likely to keep talent and build high-performing teams.
The road ahead
While progress has been made, we humbly acknowledge that we as a company and our industry have a way to go. Although our general result compared to other companies is enviable, when we dig deeper into our engagement survey results we see that there are gaps between how women and men respond. Male employees, for example, tend be more positive than women. This tells us that we can do more on gender inclusion.
For example, we need to better recognize that diversity means nothing without inclusion. While Skanska's management has the power to create a diverse workplace through its employment choices, the decision to be inclusive also comes down to the individuals working in each team and on each construction site. We need to work together as employees – and as people – to build an inclusive culture for all.
While the road to gender equality is long, we are committed to the journey and actively working to make things better on a daily basis. Join us in closing gaps between women and men in terms of representation and positive workplace experiences. In doing so we will be better together.