Move not prove: how brands can better foster allyship through progress

Fair opportunities for all also means being inclusive to candidates who might be in a different phase of their lives / Pixabay

While company-led initiatives can help to balance the scales, contributions at the individual level matter just as much. Women need role models they can look up to, and take a point from, says Ashwini Gillen, the regional vice president of sales at Twilio.

For over a century, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been an opportunity to celebrate women and their accomplishments.

Just recently, a study from Deloitte found that Singapore leads the world in terms of the proportion of chief executive officer roles held by women. This is encouraging progress, especially for a nation as young as Singapore. The same study also found that while female participation in the workforce is increasing, progress stagnates at leadership levels. The percentage of women in chief executive positions globally has climbed by less than 1% in four years.

As someone who started in the tech industry 20 years ago, this change is extraordinary to witness. The dinner table conversations with my teenage children and their friends occasionally revolve around inclusivity and equity, and it is amazing to see how they not only pick up on entrenched biases and insensitive social norms but also demand that we do better. Seeing how they’re eager to drive change gives me hope that we’re on the right track forward.

Businesses too are sitting up and taking notice. It’s easy to see why - the business case for diverse workplaces is stronger than ever. Inclusive workplace environments drive innovation, boost employee satisfaction and retention, and experience the better financial performance as a whole. With that, we’re now witnessing a growing commitment to diversify workplaces.

During this journey, it can be tempting to focus on shorter-term measures that demonstrate immediate results, like having a specific headcount for underrepresented groups. But, building truly inclusive and diverse teams goes beyond just mere representation. Businesses need to walk the talk as allies to women and ensure that workplace culture and policies demonstrate that equality is taken seriously and practiced consistently.

For one, ensuring a healthy pay parity must be a priority. Studies have indicated that the pay gap between genders has only widened since the pandemic. The unadjusted median pay gap between genders in Singapore was already at 16.3% before the pandemic itself. To truly tackle biases, businesses need to enforce fair and equal compensation, regardless of gender.

Fair opportunities for all also means being inclusive to candidates who might be in a different phase of their lives, and ensuring that there is sufficient support for them to transition back into the workforce. At Twilio, this takes the form of a returnship program that provides women with the necessary support to thrive at work even after taking a pause.

Flexible work arrangements can also help businesses to support women and be better allies. Such arrangements don’t just benefit women, but men as well. While in San Francisco, I recall witnessing firsthand the discomfort a soon-to-be father felt when requesting to take his full paternity leave of 3 months - which was his entitlement. Normalizing a culture that embraces flexible work arrangements will go a long way in breaking the biases around gendered roles that limit the contributions of everyone, both at work and home.

Individuals have equal parts to play

While company-led initiatives can help to balance the scales, contributions at the individual level matter just as much. Women need role models they can look up to, and take a point from. I believe that representation from the boardroom and down can go a long way in empowering women to believe in their capabilities.

In my experience, the existing disparity of women in top leadership positions has had the effect of dampening morale among women in general and creating the perception that such leadership roles for women probably don’t exist. Active mentorship by men and women who have struggled and climbed the ladder themselves helps build other women’s confidence - so that more will believe in their potential. Mentorship from other women I could relate to was certainly a crucial part of my journey.

Men too have their role to play. Calling out biases and inequality is a task that cannot be borne by women alone. Whether a woman or an ally, our everyday actions, all the little things we do will make an impact. Mentoring, or amplifying another woman's voice, holding candid conversations on bias or simply encouraging one another. The reality is that a gender-equal world is a better world for all of us. To limit the contributions of half of the world’s population is to limit our potential as a whole.

Ashwini Gillen is the regional vice president of sales at Twilio