It could take a century to close the gender gap. It's up to businesses to change that

Updated 5:08 PM ET, Fri March 8, 2019

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Victoria Mars is former chairman of Mars, Inc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.

Perspectives Victoria Mars

For too long, women have had to learn to adapt to and navigate in a man's world in order to succeed, myself included.

Looking back to when I first started out in my career, it was clear to me that the women leaders above me believed they had to act like men to excel. When I suggested we develop women's groups to solve business problems or to network, they cautioned against drawing too much attention. They weren't trying to be disempowering, but 'fitting in' was the way they knew.
That's the era I came from. But that is no longer okay.
It's time to come together — as women, and in partnership with men — to break down this flawed system and rebuild one that values everyone and offers equal opportunity to thrive. Our collective goal must be to unlock opportunities for women at every level of business — in our offices, factories and through the supply chain.
The World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Gender Gap Report predicts it will take 108 years to close the gender pay and opportunity gap. Businesses that want to reap the benefits of a strong and inclusive workforce need to take additional steps to make sure we aren't waiting a century for complete gender parity.

Know your numbers

Start by taking a good, hard look within your own organization. Data helps organizations understand where things currently stand, and make smart decisions about where they need to take action.
At Mars, 42% of the people that have been identified as having leadership potential in the organization are women. And yet, women only represent 25% of our management team. We've set a target to increase that representation by at least two percentage points a year, and we're working to understand what is creating the gap between the leadership pipeline — the women who have leadership potential — and management team membership.
    One way we hope to move toward that goal is to ensure that we're evaluating a diverse slate of qualified candidates every time we are hiring or looking to promote someone into a vacant role. Building on that, every hiring panel — the people that will assess the candidates — needs to be diverse as well. This helps eliminate conscious or unconscious bias in the process.

    Recognize the managers that walk the talk

    Freeing men and women from the social expectations about what a leader looks like is better for everyone, and for every bottom line. To fuel this urgency, diversity and inclusion must shift from a business imperative we talk about, to one which has meaningful performance metrics for managers.
    For example, at Mars, we've added a question about the inclusivity of work environment to our annual survey that we ask all of our associates to complete. It allows us to understand any differences between engagement levels in men and women, and which teams might be struggling in encouraging female associates to contribute in the same capacity that male associates do. And for the teams that are seeing equal engagement, we reward the managers with bonuses for encouraging a culture of inclusivity.
    Empowering leaders with information helps to embolden them and hold them accountable, while recognizing winning strategies helps set standards and provides a role model.

    Think beyond the four walls of business

    Just as advancing progress for women in the office is critical for businesses to succeed, it is also important for organizations to support women working in the supply chain.
    For example, women play a critical role in agriculture supply chains, comprising 43% of the world's agricultural labor force. And yet, they don't see an equal share of the benefits. In some cases, men earn 40% more than women for the same work. Women in the developing world are often subjected to outdated and crippling laws that deny them rights to even own property. Businesses have to work with governments and NGOs to ensure social policies support women in the economy and empower economic independence.
    The UK is a perfect example of this. Its Women's Business Council, which we actively support, has become a model for world-leading collaboration between business and government, driving notable increases in women's salaries, managerial positions and representation in STEM careers. Remarkably, more than 30% of board positions at companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index are now occupied by women, compared to 20% in 2013.
    I've seen firsthand how whole communities are transformed when income gets into the hands of women who, in turn, reinvest in health, education and community advancement. Through our DOVE® Chocolate brand, we're partnering with the nonprofit CARE. Working with this leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, we broke ground this week on a new marketplace for women-led businesses in the cocoa communities of Gueyo, Cote d'Ivoire. This project supports women as they exercise their own entrepreneurial talents and build their own businesses.
      The capacity for business to drive change is huge. From our supply chains to our workplaces to our consumers — our scale has the potential to reach large numbers of people. If business and its leaders connect the dots on gender through all the facets of the value chain, then we will make progress on gender equality quickly and substantially.
        Let's define a new business paradigm that inspires fundamental change. Working together, we can create a tomor