Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Embracing Equity” – an important concept for achieving gender equality in the workplace. While often considered synonyms that can be used interchangeably, “equality” and “equity” have different meanings, and it’s crucial we understand the distinction.

Equality is when people are given the same resources and opportunities. On the other hand, equity acknowledges that each person has a different set of starting points that must be taken into account to make necessary adjustments for imbalances.

“Equity is identifying and recognizing the differences and understanding how we can make it an equal playing field – not just for gender but across the board. We need equity so that everybody gets the resources they need for a successful outcome,” said Kathryn Leal, who leads global communications for our Women of the World (WOW) colleague resource group, which aims to educate American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) colleagues about the unique vulnerabilities women face in the workforce.

Confronting the leadership gap

Embracing equity requires having an honest conversation about the disproportionate ratio of male to female leaders. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report, women, especially LGBTQ+ women, women of color, and women with different abilities, are still drastically underrepresented in leadership roles in organizations. The difference becomes more pronounced with each step up the corporate ladder, where only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color.

It’s not necessarily that women are having a hard time breaking the “glass ceiling” – it’s that they are having a problem climbing past the “broken rung” much further down the corporate ladder.

According to the McKinsey research, for every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women – and just 82 women of color – are promoted.

The report also indicated that women leaders are switching jobs at a higher rate than their male counterparts, perpetuating the gender leadership gap. For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two female directors are choosing to leave their company.

The McKinsey report outlines several factors driving women out the door. For starters, they have a desire to advance but face stronger headwinds than men, often experiencing microaggressions that undermine their authority. Women leaders also are overworked and underrecognized, especially for their contributions toward employee well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Compared to their male colleagues, women want more flexibility and to work for a company that’s more committed to their well-being and DE&I.

How can organizations move forward?

While change cannot happen overnight, here are some steps organizations can take to close the gender equity gap:

Uncover what’s broken at your organization

“Embracing equity requires acknowledging and addressing the gender leadership gap, identifying biases, and incorporating checks and balances to prevent regressing back to old behaviors. Organizations can start by analyzing where the promotion gap lies for women and having honest conversations about biases in the workplace,” Tonya Hempstead, vice president of DE&I at Amex GBT, explained.

“Ultimately, embracing equity requires us to evaluate our thinking and challenge our behaviors to make glass ceilings a thing of the past.”

Identify biases and mitigate them

In 2021, we launched our global “Unconscious Bias” education, designed to foster conversations and awareness about our inherent prejudices to support creating a globally inclusive and welcoming environment.

“The training taught us that as humans, we all have biases and take mental shortcuts to get things done. While that can seem harmless, in the workplace, this can mean unconsciously favoring to promote an employee or hire a candidate that looks and acts just like you. In the long run, and as you move up the corporate ladder, this can result in a lack of representation and diversity,” Tonya said.

“These trainings created a platform for all colleagues to address gender bias issues in a comfortable environment and from a place of awareness, where positive change can occur.”

Encourage allyship among colleagues

Creating opportunities where everyone feels comfortable having open conversations about their experiences in the workplace can shed light on issues, uniting colleagues and spurring meaningful changes. With this objective in mind, WOW is working toward having more male inclusion in their group.

“We’d like to see more men joining WOW as allies and advocates. As men learn about the biases and challenges women face in the workplace, the more they can contribute to the conversation and support championing and influencing change,” Kathryn said. “Since most biases are unconscious, education and awareness are key to shattering glass ceilings for good.”

Ultimately, closing the gender gap is a collective effort. It requires all of us working together to challenge our unconscious biases and preconceived notions while championing positive, meaningful change.

Amex GBT is dedicated to promoting an inclusive work environment where all voices are heard. To join us on our journey of revolutionizing business travel, visit our careers page.