The diversity and inclusion agenda is at the organizational forefront today. Despite the positive intent, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed. Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 Women in Leadership study shows that only 12% organizations are seeing gender parity in C-level executive roles, even though 97% of respondents say that there is interest in having women advance to executive positions. This is not great news at either end, especially since women bring diversity of thought, approach and action to the table- a critical input for organizational success. For this, they must first understand the barriers preventing women from reaching the top.
Barriers to Women in Leadership
88% of companies have not yet achieved an equitable playing field as far as woman leaders are concerned.
The cause for this state of gender equity lies in a number of ingrained organizational culture and processes.
• Inadequate management of the leadership pipeline, where organizations do not pay attention to supporting, encouraging, and ensuring sucess for women. (54% companies)
• Little or no targeted development of leadership capabilities for women. (45% companies)
• Lack of role models is another dampener. Only 40% of the surveyed companies reported having a female CEO.
• Lack of gender diversity awareness amongst management (33%) leading to behavioural challenges faced by women.
• Lack of flexible work models (30%). A Skillsoft survey showed that the largest number of respondents (63%) feel that work/life balance is the most important issue that women face in the workforce today.
A critical cause seems to be the unequal balance of commitment among men and women outside of work. It is seen that a number of senior male business leaders rely on a parallel unpaid workforce, i.e. stay at home partners to achieve balance in their own lives and their families’ lives. McKinsey points out that top-level career implies an “anytime, anywhere availability”, something that women generally cannot easily replicate.
Despite an increasing interest in advancing women leadership, only 12% of organizations have achieved gender parity in C-level roles, according to a Brandon Hall Group research
How can you aid women leadership?
A number of interventions can help cultivate affinity for the rise of women leaders. Here is an outline of the triple-A approach to becoming a women-friendly organization.
1) Spread Awareness: Making women and their male counterparts aware of the need for gender diversity and behavioural changes they must imbibe, is the first step to breaking the glass ceiling. Only 50% of companies offer diversity training to help employees (both male and female) understand the value of a gender-diverse workforce.
Today’s workforce must be sensitized to understand the dimensions of time-and-productivity in the context of differing male-female life-roles. For example, supervisors and team members may need to be briefed about how the work/home time crunch poses developmental challenges for women. Supervisors and woman team members themselves must be encouraged to devise new solutions to counter this and ensure growth.
2) Support Aspirations: Women often look up to women role models who have made it big in the corporate hierarchy. Despite this, just 13% of companies are known to be using women role models as internal brand ambassadors to brand the company as a women-friendly employer. Organizations should turn to senior woman executives as coaches, to guide other women professionals on how to outline and achieve their aspirations.
Sheryl Sandberg, a business leader, notes that “women should adopt two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan”. Organizations should work towards identifying and developing the required leadership capabilities to meet the aspirations of women at work through targeted training and coaching. There is a need to craft new career paths and employee development, by looking beyond traditional vertical-aligned leadership and offering role-based progression. Offer new ways of working like virtual workplaces and remote working. Tap into the changing work norms to offer flexibility and enhance productivity, wherever necessary.
3) Foster Associations: Networks and associations are instrumental in corporate career progression, the same applies for aspiring women who wish to reach higher leadership. 53% of organizations surveyed in the Brandon Hall research indicated using networking groups and around 33% created a special diversity and inclusion group dedicated to women leaders.
Women make up about half of the workforce, but most companies (70%) have only about 1-25% women representation in the upper echelons of leadership.
Companies should schedule leadership-interactions to create a habit of connecting and collaborating with leaders. These interactions can be face-to-face or tech-enabled. For example, sticking to a 30-minute or one hour per month leadership commitment is easier and serves the purpose of fostering bonding and showing leadership commitment. Many women professionals believe that they have less sponsorship or advocates in their career journeys, it is important to design some connects to debunk this notion.
For woman leaders to thrive, organizations must make their growth an ingrained habit and a continuous culture. Leaders must actively engage on issues concerning career planning, work-life balance policies, work arrangements, training and development. The right support from the top management is crucial in this endeavour. Cultivating a culture of respect and taking realistic steps for women advancement will give results. However, this change will not happen overnight, but the first steps must be taken and made consistent. By creating an equal footing for men and women alike, both employers and employees stand to gain.