The leadership pipeline for women seems to have hollowed out in the middle, or at least, is facing a major blockage.
The number of women at the C-suite and Board level is now 13% and 14%, respectively while there is 41% representation of women in junior professional/specialist roles.
However, globally, the pipeline for top leadership positions still hasn't recovered to pre-pandemic levels – 14% representation of women in senior vice president roles (18% in 2019) and 16% in vice president roles (19% in 2019), reveals a new global study.
The study, titled Women in leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline—and what to do about it, from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) and Chief found out that 39% of those surveyed in India have made advancing more women into leadership roles a top, formal business priorities – 6% lower than the global figure of 45%.
Optimism rising, but reality different
Respondents estimate their industry will see gender parity in leadership in 10 years or less, compared to 2019 when the average industry estimate was 54 years.
But the reality is, at the current rate of change shown in the survey, gender parity is still decades away. In India, those surveyed are less optimistic, stating 13 years or less to bridge the gender parity in leadership roles.
Structural barriers, unconscious bias still hinder women
Since the height of the pandemic, more organisations have implemented career development planning for women, diversity training, and the creation of women’s networking groups.
However, biases persist – for example, only 41% of male managers say their organisation’s leadership believes that women with children are just as dedicated to their jobs as others.
Attributes seen as critical for leadership remain gendered
Respondents say men are primarily valued for creativity and being results-oriented with integrity and expected women to be strategic and bold but also people-oriented.
Being a ‘strategic visionary’ and ‘open and transparent communicator’ are the attributes perceived as most important for women to be promoted to a leadership position in India. For men, being ‘innovative and creative’ and ‘assertive, bold, decisive and courageous’ are the most important attributes.
Pandemic's shadow still weighs heavily on women at work
Respondents globally and in India rank the pandemic as the most serious disruption facing women, in recognition of the immense, and lasting toll it has taken on them. Geopolitical unrest is ranked number two globally and locally.
The study also presents a roadmap for sustainable progress based on leadership practices.
- Reframe women’s leadership advancement in the language of business results, such as quantifying the concrete economic gains that accrue from righting gender imbalances.
- Give your strategy teeth, such as putting specific directives and measures behind your organisation’s action plan, like setting measurable targets for women’s advancement.
- Enact an action plan aimed at driving gender equity across the full leadership pipeline, like going beyond awareness training to using experiential learning techniques like role playing and reverse mentoring to shift biases.
- Re-design roles at the top that work for top talent, for example, limiting hiring criteria to a core set of gender-neutral requirements.
"While we're pleased to see slight progress in the representation of women at the C-suite and Board levels, it's imperative that companies do more to fill the pipeline that leads to these powerful positions," said Lindsay Kaplan, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Chief.
"Women are significantly underrepresented at nearly every level of the workforce. If companies prioritise gender diversity across their entire organisations through policies, investments, and a culture that meaningfully supports women, we'll see a transformative impact — equity for everyone in the workplace and stronger, more resilient businesses."
Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, IBM Consulting India/South Asia said although the optimism and overall voice for gender parity in many industries is on the rise, organisations must take outcome-based steps to make this a reality.
“A deep involvement from organisations towards creating women leaders at workplaces will change industry dynamics from not Just the perspective of diversity & inclusiveness but from exponential growth and future-readiness standpoint as well,” he added.
The global study, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Chief in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed more than 2,500 executives, managers, and professionals -- divided equally between women and men—from organisations in 12 countries and 10 industries.