Goal Setting

Leading companies are closing the gender gap by setting specific measurable targets for achieving gender equality.

Goal setting accelerates gender equality in the workplace. According to the World Economic Forum, leading companies are closing the gender gap by outlining diversity goals in quantifiable terms and setting specific measurable targets for achieving gender equality.1

Successful goal setting includes both qualitative and quantitative goals. Qualitative goals revolve around organizational elements like impact, satisfaction, and attitude without correlating to specific numerical values. Quantitative goals, on the other hand, feature a numerical value and often involve targets and quotas.2 To formulate these different types of goals and later on track their progress, organizations need to perform a baseline assessment and routinely collect qualitative and quantitative data. Organizations that use data to inform goal setting are better equipped to formulate relevant and realistic gender equality goals that can enhance employees’ support for and commitment to achieving these objectives as well as other intersectionality initiatives. However, goal setting is an underutilized tactic in spite of the private sector’s increasing commitment to advancing the careers of women.3 The Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders found that, currently, only 16 percent of companies share gender equality targets internally and 13 percent do it externally.4

Success Factors for Goal Setting

  • Set ambitious but specific, measurable, achievable, resource-based, and time-bound (SMART) qualitative and quantitative goals at the organizational level supported by activity level targets. Establishing gender targets at the activity level significantly increases an organization’s likelihood of attaining goals related to gender equality.5
  • Leaders must own the goals. According to Deloitte, goal setting only works when leaders are held accountable and communicate the terms, limits, and desired results of those goals.6
  • Effective goal setting includes elements of recognition and reward.7 Depending on your organization, these can include financial bonuses, public recognition, etc.
  • Goals should make sense in the context of your organization. Analyze baseline data to understand the state of gender equality in your workplace and consider the demographic you want to reflect (e.g. country population, country workforce, clients).8 You can also draw inspiration from international standards and frameworks to raise the bar of your goals. For example, a small organization in a male-dominated industry will likely need to set different goals than a multinational with larger resources.

Good Practices in the Private Sector

Baker McKenzie announced in 2019 new global aspirational targets related to gender to be rolled out by July 1, 2025. The “40:40:20” targets aim to establish representation figures at 40 percent women, 40 percent men, and 20 percent flexible (women, men, or non-binary persons). The goal was first applied to candidate pools for external recruitment at partner or senior business levels and has since been extended to representation of all equity and non-equity partners, senior business professionals, and firm committee leadership. Additionally, beginning in 2020, offices are required to have 25 percent women partners; to achieve this, at least one out of every four partner promotions or new hires must be a woman. A project team, led by Baker McKenzie’s global director of diversity and inclusion, is working to tailor support for all 77 offices, roll out a global internal communications strategy, improve pipeline and succession planning, and put accountability systems in place.

Sodexo’s commitment to gender balance is linked to ambitious goals based on research and data. The company carried out a comprehensive study between 2011 and 2016 that included data from over 50,000 managers from 70 entities. Sodexo found that management teams with a gender balance between 40 and 60 percent outperform teams without a gender balance on financial and non-financial indicators. Based on this study, Sodexo’s CEO has committed to reaching a goal of having 40 percent women in senior leadership positions globally by 2025, and has set a goal to see that all employees work for gender-balanced management teams by 2025.

TELUS’s Board of Directors adopted a target of achieving a minimum representation of 30 percent women sitting as independent directors by the end of 2018. Additionally, TELUS’s board signed the Catalyst Accord 2022 pledging to have a minimum of 30 percent female representation on their Board of Directors by 2022. By the end of 2019, 42 percent of their independent directors were women.

Recommendations for Goal Setting

  • Use SDG 5 Gender Equality targets and indicators relevant for businesses as an inspiration to set organization-wide goals and targets, and report on your progress.
  • Leadership must ensure goals are cascaded down the entire organization and consider sharing relevant metrics externally to increase accountability and foster employee support.
  • Involve employees in the creation of gender equality goals and tie them to your organization’s core values, mission, and business strategy. Active involvement will build ownership around gender equality within the organization.
  • Set targets that are specific to the reality of your organization (e.g. by level, unit, area). These targets will accelerate the achievement of overall organizational goals.
  • Use collected data to model different scenarios. Modelling can help identify the achievable targets and variables that have to change to support larger goals.
  • Establish long-term goals to be supported by short-term actions. Monitor progress closely and build in time to course correct if required.

Assess Your Organization’s Goal Setting

  • Are your goals for gender equality specific, measurable, achievable, resource-based, and time-bound (SMART)?
  • Has your organization set goals for gender equality based on baseline data of the state of gender equality in the workplace?
  • Has your organization established gender representation targets for all organizational levels (i.e. Board of Directors, senior leadership, senior management, middle management, and workforce)?
  • Has your organization established gender representation targets for all organizational units (e.g. teams, departments, functions)?
  • Has your organization established gender representation targets for all types of workers (e.g. permanent, casual, contractors, shift, seasonal, trainees, students)?
  • Has your organization established quantitative goals for gender equality other than representation (e.g. hiring, retention, and promotion; gender wage gap; flexible work use; parental leave use; gender-based violence reports)?
  • Has your organization established qualitative goals to support gender equality efforts (e.g. impact of initiatives, engagement, inclusive culture, attitude towards gender equality)?
  • Has your organization shared goals for gender equality internally and externally?

Resources for Goal Setting

Name Source Type Target Area Goals Target Unit Summary

Gender Parity: Closing the Gap Between Commitment and Action



Target Setting

Learn about metrics that can help to track your company's commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women.

HR, D&I, Senior Leadership

How to Set Gender Diversity Targets

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Australia)


Target Setting

Set realistic gender targets to improve the gender diversity of your workforce.

HR, D&I, Senior Leadership

Target Setting Calculator

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Australia)


Target Setting

Test a variety of scenarios to find the most realistic and achievable gender targets for your business.

HR, D&I, Senior Leadership