There’s no more inspiring way to celebrate International Women’s Day than bringing together passionate professionals around shared values. Open dialogue, listening and a spirited exchange of lessons learned is integral to moving the dial on diversity in the workplace and honoring the spirit of this great day dedicated to uplifting womanhood.
This is precisely what U.S. Embassy Sweden did on Friday when the deputy chief of mission, Bob Gilchrist, and I hosted a targeted dialogue for Swedish businessmen and businesswomen who are already working to make change in their companies when it comes to diversity. The positive energy in the room makes me so confident that we will reach unparalleled levels of diversity in the workplace are just on the horizon. The goal of the event was to move beyond rhetoric and words, to substantive actions and tangible results. And to help equip businesspeople with a cutting-edge new way to frame this challenge, and the metrics and models that might help solve it for good.
The focus was Edge Certification, a game-changing new methodology aimed at working with large companies to create, meet and sustain gender targets in all levels of the company. Edge certification is analogous to LEED certification on gender versus environmental aspects. Like LEED, Edge provides a globally-recognized branding that a company is embracing diversity and taking steps to be an employer that attracts and sustains top talent, and leans forward on becoming a company of the future. In order to help explain Edge, we were privileged to have two dynamic keynote speakers: Simona Scarpalegia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland, and Maria Oldin, the managing director of Edge.
The business case for more women at the top is undeniable: more creativity and innovation, better decision-making, better bottom-lines and share-holders’ returns, and even cheaper mergers and greater transparency. Women’s economic empowerment is a priority of the U.S. Embassy and of President Obama who gave an impassioned call to action on the issue most recently in this year’s State of the Union Address.
“You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”- President Barack Obama
In Sweden we have an enthusiastic and accomplished partner in this realm. 27% of companies in Sweden have female board members compared with 12% for other industrialized countries. Representation of women in Sweden’s parliament is well above the average for industrialized countries at 45% & 13 of Sweden’s 24 Cabinet Ministers are female.
That being said, women’s corporate leadership is historically still a new phenomenon. In many cases, we’re still working in conventionally-designed workplace structures and organizations tailored to a traditionally “male” definition of success and what a career arc should look like. But I believe we’re at a moment of truth for diversity in all forms! Right now what it means to be a leader, what a means to be a good corporate citizen and a sustainable company is changing and that change will bring greater openness and equality.
This new way of thinking about diversity is what Edge certification is leading the way on. Thank you Maria Oldin and Simona Scarpaleggia for flying in from Switzerland just to join us! A special thanks to Megan Beyer, a fellow “Ambassador’s spouse”, who spearheaded this issue when her husband was the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. Megan, thank you for tracking me down in Chicago over the holidays and opening my eyes to Edge!
A special thanks to Bob and the entire Embassy team here in Sweden who is so committed to the promotion of human rights and civil rights: from the LGBT community to women’s equality and multiculturalism. It’s so inspiring to work under their passionate leadership on these equality issues!