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HomeOpinionsThe time — and opportunity — to achieve gender-diverse leadership is here

The time — and opportunity — to achieve gender-diverse leadership is here

Bevin Maguire

Make advancing women a formal business priority. Ensure that senior executives see gender equality as a strategic priority. Include it in your organization’s mission statement and select one or more senior executives to lead that charge.

Bevin Maguire, IBM

 

There has never been greater awareness in the corporate world — and the world at large — of the need for more diversity in the workplace. Yet the percentage of women serving in senior leadership roles remains extremely small.

A new study from the IBM Institute for Business Value called “Women, leadership, and the priority paradox” (PDF) surveyed 2,300 organizations in an effort to shed light on the state of gender equality in corporate leadership.

The results found that only 18% of top leadership positions are held by women. Meanwhile, 79% of organizations globally admitted that advancing women into leadership roles is not a formal business priority. Furthermore, respondents said they believe it will take 54 years to achieve gender diversity in senior leadership.

Those are startling numbers, and they immediately bring to mind a big question: How can these figures be rationalized when there are more women coming out of graduate school than ever before and evidence shows gender-diverse leadership is good for business?

Organizations need to change, something I am hopeful will happen during my 18-year-old daughter’s lifetime. Fortunately, there is reason for optimism.

Most survey respondents reported their organizations are taking action to promote more women to leadership positions in the future. That does indicate a level of intent, a starting point.

In order to bring about the needed changes more quickly, though, it helps to have examples to follow. By identifying a small cohort of exceptional organizations (about 12% of overall respondents) that are particularly proactive in the push for gender equality in leadership, the study provides just that.

These entities reported that they are outperforming their competition in profitability, revenue growth, innovation and employee satisfaction. We call these organizations “First Movers.”

Such companies acknowledge their responsibility to take action. They proudly and loudly proclaim their belief that gender inclusiveness will result in enhanced organizational success. More than 80% of these organizations have elevated gender-equitable leadership to a strategic business imperative.

The study outlines five specific steps these “First Movers” have all taken. And guess what? Your organization — with the comms team playing a leading role — can take them as well.

Make advancing women a formal business priority

Ensure that senior executives see gender equality as a strategic priority. Include it in your organization’s mission statement and select one or more senior executives to lead that charge.

Get leaders on board and be accountable for results

Use metrics to assess the effectiveness of your organization’s approach. Hold all leaders in hiring and/or mentorship positions accountable for increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

Co-create goals for measurable progress

Engage leaders to set quantifiable goals rather than mandates that seem more like compliance requirements. Consider the time it will take to reach your goals and factor this into your KPIs.

Embrace initiatives and policies to alleviate unconscious gender bias

Evidence shows that gender bias clearly exists in most organizations worldwide. Revisit practices to make recruitment gender blind.

Foster a culture of inclusion

Allow flexible work hours. Celebrate strong role models. Recognize that having a family is human.

Unlocking the benefits of greater diversity starts by recognizing there’s a problem in the first place, identifying the obstacles holding women back and committing to change.

Strategic initiatives such as mentorships can play a significant role in increasing the number of women in leadership posts. Other benefits such as paternity leave can also help signal a deep commitment to equality in general.

At IBM, we’ve put in place a variety of initiatives to increase the number of women tech executives, bring women back into the workplace and cultivate the future pipeline of women talent.

We all can play a part in achieving real progress by building a more gender-balanced business world — from the corner office to the boardroom.

Bevin Maguire is VP, communications – clients, markets and industry at IBM.

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