Companies are paying more attention to diversity these days, and with good reason: diverse teams perform better and lead to greater creativity. Yet, we have a long way to go. According to the Women in the Workplace Report from McKinsey & Co. and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, women still face hurdles on every rung of the corporate ladder and a global pay gap of 32%. The truth is, it’s not an easy disparity to fix or even to identify.

“When I became CEO, a lot of problems started to surface that were not noticeable on a lower level,” says Dovilė Grigienė, YPO member and CEO of Swedbank AB Lithuania. She found some of her counterparts at other institutions weren’t aware of the issue. She adds, “It is difficult to address gender equality because, aside from wage differences and percentages in managerial positions, it is a subjective issue.”

Dovilė Grigienė, CEO of Swedbank AB Lithuania

In 2015, Grigienė and Swedbank made gender parity a priority. Following are Grigienė’s insights for fostering equal opportunities in the workplace.

Define the disparity

First, Swedbank needed to understand and quantify where it stood on gender equality. “Research where you are because many people are unaware of problems,” says Grigienė. “But you need to find a system, create it and make it possible to measure where you are.” After creating an internal system that allowed human resources to determine the pay gap while accounting for education, employment term and more, Swedbank found it had a 5% pay gap even with a 70% female employee base.

Generate awareness around gender equality

For many employees, the topic was new. To generate awareness of and build support for the issue, the organization hosted workshops for management before rolling them out to all employees. “We started to create an awareness campaign to make everyone internally believe that this issue needs to be resolved and that we need to focus on it,” says Grigienė. “To constantly build awareness and to continue to fix the issues is not an easy or short-term process. In our case, it took at least three years before we saw visible results.”

Stay neutral

Initially, male employees felt threatened by the gender diversity efforts. But the goal, Grigienė says, was not to replace one gender for the other but to have equal representation in the workplace. “It’s important to have a very neutral approach and stress that it’s about gender neutrality,” says Grigienė. “We have to have up to 40-60% of one gender in management to provide the necessary diversity level to absorb the benefits. It doesn’t matter which one is higher but there should be some limits.” Currently, Swedbank has a ratio of 55-45%, males-to-females, at the management level.

Build the culture

In order to implement the necessary changes in pay, policy and processes, Grigienė says that Swedbank first needed to build an internal culture that would accept those changes. “There is a systematic need to build this into your organization,” says Grigienė. “Start with policies on how you work on things and then have a real system to measure things that are objective like pay gap and your management teams. Diversity doesn’t happen by mixing one person into the field of others. You need to have a specific percentage so there is support and sympathy in exactly that direction.”

Mind the gap

While working to ingrain the issue within the culture, Swedbank also had to determine how to allocate resources to eliminate the actual gap. It takes time and persistence to budget for changes, build awareness, and effect and sustain tangible results. After five years, Swedbank has reduced the gap: it’s at 1%. “It might sound like a simple issue, but you need to keep measuring the pay gap,” says Grigienė. “We have 2,600 employees here in Lithuania; people come and people leave, and it is a constantly changing issue. You can’t just do it once, measure and leave it, because it constantly changes.”

Diversity doesn’t happen by mixing one person into the field of others. ”
— Dovilė Grigienė, CEO Swedbank AB Lithuania share twitter

Review succession planning

In order to have both genders represented throughout the organization, Swedbank now requires candidates of both genders be provided for each position. “That was a new policy that created a lot of stress internally because there were some positions like risk management that were dominated by males, and we had a hard time finding female candidates,” says Grigienė. “That took us quite some years to get to where we have good candidates from both genders for the higher level positions. This was also very helpful in changing the mindsets of people internally.”

Capture the benefits

Grigienė says that it took at least three years for employees to embrace the diversity initiative ideas. And now, they are starting to see the benefits, particularly on employee motivation and morale. “Our employees feel valued, respected and, of course, that definitely helps us to improve our productivity and overall emotional mood,” says Grigienė. “It’s also a big thing for your employer branding because not all companies have diversity policies.”

Expand efforts

Following the successful rollout of its gender diversity initiatives, Swedbank has turned its attention to providing equal opportunities to other underrepresented communities. The goal: to represent the country, and society, better. In 2019, Swedbank became the first company in Lithuania to support publicly Baltic Pride, an annual LGBT+ pride parade rotating in turn between the capitals of the Baltic states: Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. And in 2020, the company began to tackle age and nationality diversification within its employee base. “We go deeper and take on more angles,” says Grigienė. “When you do these steps, you’re on this journey with your own employees first helping them open up their minds a bit and building awareness through training. You have to have patience because the change of a mindset is a long-term process.”

Stay focused

To ensure diversity remains a priority, Swedbank reviews its efforts quarterly to see how it is doing and where it can improve. “You need to do more beyond allocating money to diversity and inclusion initiatives,” says Grigienė. “You have to incorporate these processes into your way of working. Progress is slow and requires a great deal of patience, commitment, ongoing resources. Consistently keep focus because things will derail again.”

Recently, Swedbank found that the biggest issue impacting a new pay gap was higher pay for males at the entry level, which human resources is working to eliminate.

From the top down

For companies to make real change, the mandate has to come from the top with a commitment from senior management and accountability mechanisms for monitoring progress.

“From an organizational perspective, it has to come from the top, and the mindset has to be there,” says Grigienė. “You have to create the right culture, which is not a simple task, but it’s doable. If you do not fully achieve it, it will at least give you a sense of improvement and your employees will definitely feel better, which I think is especially important in our current environment and world.”