New Study Finds That When Working Women Advance, Men Do, Too

New Study Finds That When Working Women Advance, Men Do, Too

Equal Pay Day
(Image: iStock/UberImages0

Just in time for Equal Pay Day on April 10, Accenture has released a new study that begins by stating outright: “Leaders of businesses and organizations have the power to close the gender gap in career advancement and pay.”

The key, according to the study entitled Getting to Equal, is to create a culture in which everyone—not just women—can thrive, and Accenture researchers believe they’ve identified the key drivers that define such a culture.

Surveying more than 22,000 working women and men in 34 countries, researchers identified 40 cultural factors that are statistically shown to impact advancement. Those factors were then grouped into three categories.

  • Bold Leadership: A diverse leadership team that sets, shares, and measures equality targets openly.
  • Comprehensive Action: Policies and practices that are family-friendly, support both genders, and are bias-free in attracting and retaining people.
  • Empowering Environment: One that trusts employees, respects individuals, and offers freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly.

“In workplaces where these factors are most common, women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director levels,” says Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer for Accenture and co-author of the study with Julie Sweet. “And when women rise, so do men. Men are 23% more likely to advance to manager or above—and are over two times more likely to advance to senior manager/director or above.”

Shook reviewed the rest of the study’s most significant findings with me in a Q&A.


The study’s finding that the factors most likely to improve the advancement of women will also benefit men combats the common presumption that one group can only advance at the expense of another. Was that a surprise?

It actually was a big surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see it and it’s an important finding as organizations strive for equality. It shifts the dialogue from either/or to and/both—we’re all part of the solution and we all benefit from actions taken.


The study notes that transparency around pay-gap goals is key. It seems most companies have a vested interest in keeping the secrecy and discomfort around compensation conversations in place. How does the average woman get her company to change?

Transparency overall is a critical element, because transparency builds trust. And, being transparent about both goals and progress allows [an] organization to hold itself to a higher level of accountability.

I think it is hard for the “average woman” to do this alone. And while I do believe that every person’s voice has the power to drive change, it’s our collective voices that really break through and accelerate progress. So, if women want to see change, it’s important to have courageous conversations about this—by bringing the right people together to discuss the pros and cons of being more transparent.


The value proposition around women’s affinity groups is interesting. Many once assumed these groups were simply window dressing. To what do you attribute their growing significance and effectiveness as genuine change agents in companies?

In our research, we found that involvement in a women’s network correlates with women’s advancement. Two-thirds of fast-track women participate in women’s networks, compared with less than half of women overall. Our research shows that where networks do exist, 90% of women participate and that the majority are open to men. Employee resource groups that are open to everyone allows diverse thinking for problem-solving and that yields better results.


The study focuses on large corporations. Is there any sense of how applicable these same tenets are in midsized and small companies?

The findings can be relevant to any company, despite their size.  In fact, in companies in which the 40 factors are most common, approximately 95% of employees are satisfied with their career progression, love their job at least most of the time, and aspire to be promoted and to be in a senior leadership position.


The majority of “The 40” center on creating an “empowering environment,” and flexibility is a common denominator among many of those items. Is the study implying that flexibility will be the great differentiator for companies moving forward?

To be clear, what we found is that when factors in all three categories are present—bold leadership, comprehensive action, and empowering environment—it creates a virtuous circle, with one enhancing the others.  This is when you see real acceleration happen.


What does it mean for leaders to “set a positive example around work-life balance?”

Each individual needs the freedom to define what work-life balance means.  Leaders need to encourage that freedom and respect it.  Let me give you an example—have you ever received an email from your boss at night? Or while they were on vacation? It makes people wonder if that is the expectation—that they need to follow suit. Leaders need to create the environment to have open conversations about what individuals need to be their best and allow people to make choices accordingly.


There was no mention of the demands of the digital age on women, wages, or workers in general. Even when one has flexible hours and the freedom to teleconference rather than fly across the globe, was there any exploration of how the 24-hour work day and seven-day work week is impacting women vs. men, work-life balance, and corporate culture? If not, might that be a future study?

This year’s research expands on our previous exploration of the causes of, and solutions to, the gender gap at work. Getting to Equal 2017 shined a light on the actions that women themselves could take to use digital skills, career strategies, and technology to accelerate their advancement. Getting to Equal 2018 redirects the spotlight to the actions employers can take to create a culture of equality.

At Accenture, we have the goal of being the most ‘truly human’ organization in the digital age. What that means is helping our people be their best professionally and personally—mentally focused, physically energized, with a sense of belonging and purpose. We are partnering with Thrive Global and have other actions in place to bring this to life in very tangible and relevant ways in the 55 countries in which we operate…it’s changing how we work and connect with each other.


The study provides compelling new answers to long-held questions. What new questions does it raise?

It was important for us, in our research this year, to move beyond the well-documented problem of gender equality and focus on action. Creating a culture of equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative. The question is who will get there first? And how big of an impact will it have on their business results, including their ability to attract, inspire, and ultimately retain top talent?

See how much you could be earning as a working woman in a more equal society by using the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) gender pay calculator.