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In Silicon Valley, data trumps opinion — even with gender parity

The value of diversity is no longer a question; it is a fact. Here’s our plan to get there by 2030.

SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan participates in a panel event hosted by Keds & LOLA to celebrate Women's Equality Day on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in New York City.
SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan participates in a panel event hosted by Keds & LOLA to celebrate Women's Equality Day on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in New York City.
Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

This Saturday, Aug. 26, marks Women’s Equality Day; the date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.

As a diverse group of current and former CEOs and business leaders, it is clear to us that Silicon Valley has the opportunity to go beyond a single day of celebration and celebrate women’s equality every day. And that's the real goal.

We know firsthand the challenges of creating an inclusive and diverse workplace and the benefits that make these challenges worth tackling and overcoming. The recent firestorm at Google has made these challenges all the more relevant, particularly in data-driven industries like tech that demand measurable results.

Silicon Valley has begun to hold itself accountable for gender disparity, and is starting a dialogue with employees and management about these issues. Companies like Google and Facebook have hired diversity executives, and have instituted initiatives that advocate for diversity and seek to bring in employees from underrepresented groups.

These actions send an important message: The value of diversity is no longer a question; it is a fact. According to a 2014 Credit Suisse report, companies with 50 percent women in senior operating roles show 19 percent higher return on equity on average. A move from 0 percent to 30 percent female leaders in profitable companies is associated with a 15 percent increased net revenue margin, according to a 2016 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

These compelling statistics elevate gender parity from something that’s nice to have to something companies, even well-performing tech companies, need to have.

In Silicon Valley — and in corporate America generally — data trumps opinion, making gender diversity a no-brainer. As the controversy at Google illustrates, turning diversity goals into positive business realities is hard — but it isn’t as hard as one would think, even in Silicon Valley. As with any initiative that improves the bottom line, paying lip service to diversity isn’t enough. You need a plan.

Despite the fact that the tech industry remains overwhelmingly male, Silicon Valley is actually uniquely suited to transform rhetoric into results. For instance, Silicon Valley companies understand that happy employees deliver better business results — and are willing to make the necessary investments. These companies have free food prepared by nutritionists and famous chefs, wellness centers offering employee massages, and even employee housing. Why not add free child care to the nearly endless menu of benefits? When women have support from employers in the form of affordable child care, they are more likely to stay in the workforce and progress to senior leadership roles.

Additionally, engineering is actually a field that is particularly well-suited for women. Engineers often function independently and they are able to do their jobs successfully in or out of the office. The flexibility that engineers get is exactly the type of flexibility that allows women to rise up and reach the highest levels of corporate America — and reach them more frequently.

When we started the Paradigm for Parity coalition in 2016, we recognized the need for undeniable, measurable results and for clear, implementable steps to get there. While many organizations support gender equality and call for enhanced diversity in the workplace, the Paradigm for Parity coalition is unique in that it outlines a specific set of concurrent actions a company can take to achieve gender parity across all levels of corporate leadership by 2030, including measuring targets and maintaining accountability by providing regular progress reports. Today, we represent 56 member companies with approximately five million employees in every corner of the U.S. and around the world.

Quantitative evidence shows us why diversity is imperative: You can’t have economic growth unless everyone is included. We must work with clearly defined quantitative targets, like those outlined by the Paradigm for Parity coalition, to make diversity in business a statistical reality. In more ways than one, Silicon Valley has succeeded in making the world a better place, and we are confident it can succeed in making it a more equal one too.

Jewelle Bickford, Ellen Kullman and Sandra Beach Lin are the co-chairs of Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders dedicated to achieving gender parity by 2030. Reach them @p4parity.

Jewelle Bickford is a partner at Evercore Wealth Management, and a former global partner at Rothschild Group.

Ellen Kullman is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of DuPont, and a board member of Amgen, Carbon, Dell Technologies, The Goldman Sachs Group and United Technologies Corporation.

Sandra Beach Lin is a board member of a board member of American Electric Power, Interface Biologics, PolyOne Corporation, and Wesco International, as well as the retired president and chief executive officer of Calisolar.

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