I recently did something that terrifies every father: I dropped my daughter off at college for the first time. I had thought about this moment for months (probably years if I'm honest), as had my wife. Our daughter was leaving home and going out into the big world.
As I think about my daughter's future, I want to make sure she has the same opportunities I had, and that my sons will have. Sadly, the grim statistics about women in business tell me that may not be the case: today women account for just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and a tragic 0.3% of FTSE 250 CEOs and, in 2013, the number of women in senior management roles, globally, was just 18.5%. These numbers haven't moved much in the last 30 years, so why should I expect them to improve during my daughter's career?
The path to leadership for women is difficult and far from certain, even as we approach International Women's Day 2015. In fact, just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum issued research projecting that it will take until 2095 to achieve gender parity in the workplace. 2095!
This is even more confounding given reams of undisputed research demonstrating that business outcomes improve when women are present in leadership. In our recent study, The time for gender parity is now, for example, 64% of high-performing companies reported that men and women have equal influence on strategy in their organizations, compared with only 43% of the lower-performing companies surveyed. Many other well-known global organizations have issued studies showing similar outcomes - including increased profitability, ROI and innovation - when women are counted among senior leadership.
Women are half of our population; at EY they are half of our workforce. With so much to gain, why are gender-balanced teams, in leadership and throughout every organization, still the exception rather than the norm?
We wouldn't wait 80 years to implement any other business imperative offering so much upside, so why are we waiting on this one?
It is clear to me that in the world of business, CEOs and other top executives will have to play a significant role in accelerating the pace of change to gender parity.
It's important to have women 'leaning in' but we must also have companies supporting and sponsoring them to do so. We must work to make the path to leadership clear to women. Organizations need to pro-actively address unconscious bias, making it clear that such bias is unacceptable. And this can't just be an initiative; it has to be a culture change driven by progressive corporate policies, such as more flexible working for both men and women.
So on this International Women's Day, let's take a moment to look at our businesses, or the companies where we work, and ask if we are creating supportive environments that provide opportunities for women to progress. Are we making a conscious effort to address unconscious bias? Do our pathways to leadership include women? Are our teams diverse enough to unleash the innovative spirit and new ways of thinking?
I often tell my kids: the world will find your limitations; only you will find your opportunities. My commitment on this International Women's Day is to do what I can as a CEO and as a father to help more women find their opportunities. Our daughters and granddaughters shouldn't have to wait another 80 years to realise their full potential in the workplace.