Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. 

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RESEARCH TIANGLE PARK – For far too long business leaders have turned their backs on the challenges women face in the workplace. The nearly unfathomable truth is that by most measurements – pay, work satisfaction, advancement opportunities and other factors – women have not really advanced at all in the first two decades of the 21st century. 

As a matter of fact, examining survey and economic data reveals that women have been placed in a no-win situation – facing stagnant or declining wages since 2000 and increased caregiving expectations as older generations’ health care needs have grown. From a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) perspective, I’m not exaggerating when I say the current situation is a national tragedy. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

For example, The Gender Gap in Financial Health report, funded by Principal Foundation and conducted by the Financial Health Network revealed women were less financially healthy than men in nearly every statistical category. However, digging deeper among women demographically, the study found that just 11% of Black women and 7% of Latina women are deemed financially healthy, in comparison to 25% of White women. From this perspective, according to the report, all women face “gender discrimination,” but “Black and Latina women face additional challenges…that result from race-based discrimination and decades of disinvestment and marginalization.” 

The upside is that this lack of equality can be overcome through collective action by those in power. One of our first steps should be to assert the challenge in stronger terms, since outmoded concepts, like the so-called “glass ceiling,” don’t adequately capture the full extent of what is happening. The call-to-action is direct: If you are in a position to help women, then it is your responsibility to address points of disparity and create equal opportunities for women to excel. We have so much ground to make up. The effort must begin today. 

Here are several action items that can help women achieve as professionals, managers and leaders.


  • Implement Pay Equity and Equal Opportunity Practices – The most important and timely step a senior leader can take is to implement pay equity strategies that end the propensity to pay women less for their work. The initiatives might range from conducting pay equity audits to ensuring that talent operations are free from bias and create equal opportunities for all employees. When compensation practices are fair, an organization’s culture will benefit from greater trust, motivation and loyalty. 
  • Cultivate an Inclusive Culture – Pay equity is a critical step in building an inclusive culture, but the first step is executive commitment. Senior business leaders must actively promote and prioritize gender diversity within their organizations. If they really want to uplift women and bring more women into leadership – which is proven to raise creativity, collaboration and profitability – then they need to establish measurement tools that treat fairness and equity like any other part of the business. Fostering an inclusive culture that values and supports women’s advancement will help organizations attract, retain and promote talented women professionals.
  • Develop Targeted Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs – The lack of equity in the modern workplace cannot be overcome with pay alone. Executives must create mentorship and sponsorship programs that provide the critical experience and networking that will improve the professional lives of women leaders. “Both mentorship and sponsorship are beneficial strategies to support historically marginalized individuals,” says Jamie Ousterout, vice president of client success at The Diversity Movement. “The informal and formal relationships created through these programs benefit the organization and create new pathways for workplace excellence.” 
  • Create Leadership Development Programs – Leadership training is critically needed at every level, but is particularly important in helping women leaders find success. However, all leadership training and development programs are not equal. Ensure that your efforts provide the information, knowledge and resources that address and challenge the biases that women often encounter in their professional journeys. The robust talent pipeline you create will also help shape the organization’s overall culture for the better. 
  • Promote Fair Work-Life Integration and Flexible Policies – Recent studies reveal how women have struggled to keep up in the post-pandemic economy, as many had to take on new or additional caregiving roles during the epidemic. Executives should acknowledge the realities women face by implementing flexibility when possible. The notion that granting employees options related to remote work and allowing some freedom from traditional work hours somehow equates to lack of effort or a lessening of standards of excellence should be eliminated. Instead, organizations can become employers of choice and attract strong women leaders by helping them effectively manage their professional and personal responsibilities, including caregiving for loved ones and childcare options. The result is an important cultural message about a company’s support for women as they pursue their aspirations. 

There is no way to say it gently – we have to have women better integrated into fair and equitable workplaces, and we need to promote more women leaders immediately. Overcoming decades of stagnation, though, will take a determined effort that ties equity programs and initiatives to real-world results. 

Creating a culture-centric organization filled with inclusive leaders will not only help your company achieve more, but it will make you a better leader in the process. By fostering an inclusive culture, we can create an environment where women thrive and contribute to the success of our organizations. But, we can only do so by seizing the opportunity to build stronger teams, stronger organizations and a future where gender diversity is the norm rather than the exception.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson founded The Diversity Movement to literally change the world. As CEO, he has guided its work with hundreds of clients and through hundreds of thousands of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, he is the author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events, and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.