Gender Diversity At The Executive Level Still A Work In Progress

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In 2016, women are still underrepresented at all levels of the corporate pipeline. It is assumed that this is a result of women having a more difficult time than men in balancing work and family life. While that may be the case in certain situations, the biggest issue is that women face greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership.

Female leadership is of vital importance to organizations that endeavor to perform at their highest level, yet based on the slow rate of progress over the past three years, it will take twenty-five years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite. Company culture factors continue to play a central role in achieving (or missing) gender-diversity goals, underscoring just how long lived and challenging the issues are.

A very positive development is that CEO commitment to gender diversity is high, but companies need to make a significant and sustained investment to change company practices and culture so women can achieve their full potential.

Executive women aim just as high as their male peers do. 79 percent of all mid- or senior-level women want to reach top management, compared with 81 percent of their male counterparts. Senior women executives a promotion away from the C-suite are more likely to agree strongly that they have top-management ambitions. 69 percent of senior women say they are confident they’ll reach the C-suite, while 86 percent of their males in the same position do. A comparison of women who feel confident that they can rise to the next level against those who are less confident at the prospect found that a favorable organizational environment and cultural factors weighed twice as heavily as individual considerations in determining how they felt about reaching top management.

Leveraging the full talents of an organization’s population creates a competitive advantage. Companies with more women in leadership roles perform better, and employees on diverse and inclusive teams put in more effort, stay longer, and demonstrate more commitment while offering the diverse perspectives that enhance creative problem solving. To change the numbers, gender bias and stereotypes have to be understood and counteracted.

Formal mentoring programs.

Many organizations are getting senior leaders to give more mentoring and assistance to talented women inside the firm. In addition, organizations are creating women’s groups that can provide opportunities for women to be with those who face the same dilemmas, and to exchange solutions for coping with these demands. Women’s groups can also be valuable in providing coaching and support.

Development opportunities.

Some organizations are combining greater development opportunities along with encouraging senior managers to increase the pipeline of women who are in supervisory and managerial positions. From these ranks, future VPs and senior executives will be chosen. If there is not a sufficient supply of female candidates at these first and second levels of management, the problem is exacerbated. Due to the relatively small number of senior women in corporations, there are few role models for up and coming women executives to emulate. The more organizations can increase the exposure and influence of their senior women, the greater their success will be in moving women to senior positions.

Active internal recruiting.

There have been studies that have shown that organizations with women on their boards of directors have better financial performance than those without. As organizations seek to fill their leadership pipeline, it would be wise for them to look internally and externally to tap a ready pool of qualified female candidates.

Finally, along with all of the more objective and rational economic cases that can be made, there is also a place for the moral argument that simply says, this is the right thing to do.


Bunny Robinson

About the Author:

Bunny Robinson is a Principal Consultant of the firm, with 10 years of Employee Communications and Human Resources experience in high tech manufacturing and defense systems industries. She has also worked in the fields of broadcasting, advertising, and market research. Bunny graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and is pursuing a Master’s degree at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN. She enjoys volunteer work and has served as a board member for various community service and arts organizations as well as local government.