Although women around the world are closing the gap in areas such as health and education, Research by World Economic Forum reveals that a notable inequality persists in the proportion of women in a leadership role. Women represent less than 50 percent of leaders in every industry analyzed.
The representation of women in the leadership position is far lower in sectors like Energy and Mining or Manufacturing (20 percent). The rate of development for women has also been slow. Over the past decade, the proportion of female leaders has increased by an average of just over 2 percent. Though there has been efforts from the business leaders and HR team to close this gap, most efforts do not produce desired outcomes simply because they are not integrated into the organization.
Here are the top ten gender talent approaches by which organizations can get more women into leadership positions:
- Assess your status:
Know where your organization is on the continuum:
-Stage-1: Severe Talent Loss: In this situation, gender is not on the radar. There are no women on the board. Less than 10 percent of the senior management team are female and women are siloed to specific roles like HR, marketing, and administrative roles.
-Stage-2: Talent Bleeding: Gender-related issues are recognized but is not a priority. In this company, women are sent out for training. There are occasional events to help women network. While awareness has increased, there hasn’t been a substantive change.
-Stage-3: Talent Sustained: Gender is recognized and discussed. Measurement of gender is a focus area. The organization creates affinity groups to provide arenas for discussion and support.
-Stage-4: Talent Growth: Gender is a priority. There may be talent related siloes, but the company is known for looking at talent more broadly across the organization.
Women are part of the promotion process in significant numbers.
Measurement is tied to performance. Work processes are reviewed for gender bias. Sponsorship programs are a part of the company. A diversity council or senior team is responsible for ensuring diversity is fully integrated into the talent strategy.
-Stage-5: Talent Maximized: Gender is embedded in the talent strategy. There is gender parity across the organizational hierarchy and within functional areas. Processes have minimized bias. Work is designed with flexibility around joint employer, client, peer and employee goals. Women are well integrated in the promotion process and are key decision makers on strategy.
- Be holistic:
Align the organization’s programs and policies with business objectives so that the changes are associated with operational successes rather than offering “feel-good” support. Set expectations that the change will help the organization be more effective and ultimately more profitable.
- Assess where the problem lies:
Some organizations do exceptionally well at talent development but struggle with promotion. Others excel at helping women get into positions of power but face challenges in keeping them there.
Knowing what your organization already does well and where it needs help enables the problem to be broken down into more manageable aspects. Taking an assessment of your current process will provide a base for measuring progress.
- Help women to eliminate unconscious biases about themselves:
There is a need to start looking at the problem through a different lens. Before you start addressing unconscious bias among male line managers, there is a need to tackle the perspective of how the women perceive themselves.
Orange Grove’s research suggests that women have internalized three fundamental biases:
-Career ambivalence: Often women feel that they can’t share their career ambitions or desires to move into positions of power by assuming “I’m not sure I’m supposed to make my career so important.”
-Role disconnect: This is a feeling that their roles as women, mothers, sisters, friends, community members are at odds with their roles as professionals.
-Self-limiting beliefs: Women more often internalize stereotypical messages and reinforce them through self-talk saying “I’m not good enough. I’m supposed to do all the work perfectly.”
- Address the unconscious bias of men and managers:
Often male and female managers bring unconscious biases into their decision making. For example, they may assume a woman can’t travel because she has small children. Managers need to be aware of their own biases as well as the biases that women and men hold about themselves, taking into account how all these biases may affect their decisions around talent.
- Bringing a change in the organization:
If the change focuses just on the biases, the efforts are unlikely to be effective. Some employees or managers may shift their thinking and approaches, but the effort won’t be sustainable or organization-wide. Organizations can identify a myriad of changes including:
-Expanding the talent pipeline in recruitment, job diversity, and middle and senior leadership by broadening where the talent is identified.
-Formal and informal sponsorship of female candidates in the promotion process.
-Focused training to help women with follow-up and implementation support.
-Tackling the change at a pace that makes sense for the company.
-Developing career pathways which include a career lattice approach versus the traditional vertical climb.
-Redefining flexibility to be outcome driven, ubiquitous, available, and designed to meet the needs of work and life.
- Take small steps:
Systemic changes are not easy to implement. Starting small provides an opportunity to experiment creates built-in change agents for a more comprehensive roll-out and enables everyone to become comfortable with the pace of change. It also yields examples that can be shared organization-wide to decrease the resistance towards the change by increasing the comfort level with the changes.
- Measure progress:
Before embarking on a change process, identify the key performance indicators and define the measurement process. These measurements should align with the strategic goals of the business like productivity, employee satisfaction ratings, etc. Measurement is imperative because it shows clearly what is effective and what is ineffective.
A great women leadership program requires senior leadership to support women at every stage. By reframing biases, making decision making processes more objective, and measuring progress, companies can attract, retain and promote the best talent and realize significant financial benefits.