The 10 Commandments of Gender Balancing

By Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

A number of recent books and media attention are focusing on the rise of women and the negative impacts on men. The Richer Sex and Manning Up are fascinating accounts of a tipping point in gender relations that has developed before our eyes. The corporate reality on gender balance remains somewhat more unbalanced, as our recent Gender Balance Scorecards show.

Part of the reason may be the way that we have gone about it. Here are a few basic suggestions to adapt corporate balancing initiatives to the reality of the times:

1. Make it strategic. Make it a business issue, not a women’s issue or a diversity issue.

2. Make it balanced. Focus on the ratio of women AND men, not just the percentage of women in all metrics and KPIs.

3. Make targets neutral. Aim for an acceptable ratio for both genders, not just women, e.g. a minimum of 40 percent of EITHER gender across ALL functions.

4. Make managers gender bilingual. Train ALL managers, men and women, to be skilled in managing across genders (just as you equip them to be competent across cultures).

5. Make managers accountable. Shift accountability for progress on gender balancing to managers of teams, rather than on individuals.

6. Celebrate “bilingual” competence. Most companies make a lot of noise about the women they promote. Also celebrate the managers who identified, developed and promoted them — that’s where the skills are lacking today.

7. Embed flexibility. Measure output, not input. Let high performers work where and when they want, as long as they deliver. Forget work/ life for women; create flexibility for all and help managers manage flexible, virtual teams.

8. Make careers flexible, too. Adapt linear, unbroken, up or out career patterns to recognize multiple career paths. If you identify all your high-potential talent between 30 and 35, you are likely excluding women and a growing number of men.

9. Never say the word “women.” dump the old language and become truly bilingual and inclusive of both men and women. Replace the common “women in leadership,” “assertiveness training for women,” “coaching and mentoring for women” with a focus on balance, talent or customers — and ensure that all your development programs are balanced within your target range now.

10. Stop accusing men. Stop running workshops called “unconscious bias,” “discrimination” or “stereotyping.” Position gender balancing as a business opportunity; you’ll find both men and women enthusiastically getting on board.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox is CEO of gender consultancy 20-first as well as author of HOW Women Mean Business. She can be reached at