IBM: Gender equality, we’ve (not) come a long way, baby

By Laura V. Garcia
Procurement magazine takes a look at IBM's "Women, leadership, and missed opportunities, Why organizations’ good intentions are not good enough...

The global pandemic has brought global disruption, impacting the world economy and countless lives. But as IBM’s women in leadership study shows, the impacts weren’t felt in equal measure. Working women took a mightier blow, with millions forced away from their jobs and back to the home, bringing female participation in the workplace to its lowest rate since 1988.

Compared to 2019, there are now fewer women in the pipeline to fill executive roles, and the advancement of women remains a top 10 priority for only 1 in 4 organisations. 

Between November 2020 and January 2021, IBM surveyed more than 2,600 executives, middle managers, and professional women and men. To gain further perspectives, IBM held a global, two-day virtual “jam” with 3,100 women and gender diversity allies to capture their experiences and perspectives on the topic. What they found was that despite increased awareness and perhaps good intentions, ineffective programs are leading to “gender equity” fatigue. 

As Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Executive Sponsor, IBM Women’s Executive Council and Constituency Senior Vice President, IBM Global Markets, says, “There is a clear need for new models of empathetic leadership. For years, studies—including our own—have called attention to the systemic barriers to career advancement facing women. Still, the percentage of women in top leadership roles has not budged.”

And so, as we roll out of Women's month and into Diversity month, we thought it important to review some of the key findings, and most fittingly, the impacts of stacked biases. As we lay out in the April edition of Procurement magazine and in our upcoming webinar, diversity and inclusion isn’t about goodwill efforts, it’s about good business, and token gestures or rainbow-washing isn’t going to get you there.

Women of colour, the high impacts of stacked biases

Women of colour continue to face layered barriers, penalised for both their race and their gender. Showing the high impacts of stacked bias, IBM reports that on average, black women are paid 38% less than white men, it takes 23 months for a Hispanic woman to earn what white men earn in a year, and only 1 black woman stands as CEO at a Fortune 500.


  • 34% of all women say they have personally experienced race-based bias, while 28% say they have experienced gender-based bias.

  • 86% of Hispanic women have experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity, and 70% because of their gender.

  • On average, Black women are paid 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women.

  • Women of colour are also significantly underrepresented in professional leadership roles. Only 5 Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOs, and across the senior leadership ranks, women of colour hold just 1 in 25 C-suite roles and white women 1 in 5.

The business case for gender equity

“Organizations that see gender parity as a strategic asset are more successful. They outperform their competition on nearly every measure surveyed, from innovation to revenue growth to customer and employee satisfaction.”— Women, leadership, and missed opportunities, Why organisations’ good intentions are not good enough, IBM Institute for Business Value.

Compared to other organisations, gender-inclusive companies that prioritise the advancement of women report as much as a 61% higher rate of revenue growth.

According to a McKinsey analysis, companies with the most women in top roles can potentially see performance and profits that are close to 50% higher than those with the fewest. 

To download the full report and find out more on how companies are falling short in their efforts to improve on equity and inclusion, click here.

Join me and our specials guests for our webinar, Five Ways to Increase Supplier Diversity and Compliance, on Wednesday, Apr 7, 12:00 pm Eastern Time (US & Canada). 


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