Encouraging women onto boards is essential for success. So what’s the secret to achieving better gender diversity?
Guardian — Research shows that Fortune 500 companies with more women officers and board directors financially outperform those with fewer. The numbers also suggest that not enough companies are making tangible efforts to develop and promote women to the hot jobs that lead to high-profile positions.
It’s a similar situation in the UK too, so why are there so few women in corporate leadership positions? And how do we change this picture?
As part of our annual awards, Catalyst, a global non-profit that promotes opportunities for women and business, evaluated the effectiveness of a number of initiatives designed to encourage gender balance in the workplace.
In the process, we identified key strategies for addressing workplace barriers and making gender diversity programmes successful. These include: a clear commitment from the chief executive and other senior leaders; a well thought-out plan for implementation; a strong focus on accountability. In other words, nothing is left to chance.
Companies need to provide practical solutions to ensure that talented woman are able to advance up the corporate ranks. Here are some ideas and examples of how they can make a change:
Drive change from the top
Chief executives must be committed to making long-term change in their organisations. They must lead the strategy, and reinforce it with managers at all levels.
Coca-Cola’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, pledged to achieve gender parity throughout the company by 2020. He made sure that all managers — from the lower ranks to the senior echelon — understood how gender equality boosts the bottom line. “This was not just a case of us being nice to women,” explains Kathy Waller, chair of the Women’s Leadership Council at Coca-Cola. “This was all about the business case: 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women and we need to look like the marketplace we serve.”
The company’s global Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), composed of 17 senior female executives from around the world, advises senior leaders on how to develop women at the company. This kind of senior management buy-in is essential to ensuring gender parity remains integral to the business.
Break down barriers in male-dominated industries
According to a recent report, only one in 10 engineers in the UK is female. But with female representation vital to business success, it’s essential for companies to increase women’s representation in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Within engineering, the mining and metals industry in particular is struggling to attract and retain female talent. Klaus Kleinfeld, chief executive of Alcoa, combined the senior management buy-in and accountability elements to develop gender parity within the organisation. He made it a top priority to hire and develop women across the organisation, including in operational roles. Managers across all levels and regions must report on the diversity status of talent in the pipeline. They also must show specific steps they are taking to develop those employees, for example, by providing mentors and development programmes.
Externally, the company encourages more women into Stem subjects by providing scholarships and partnering with universities and other educational initiatives focused on women and girls.
For a gender initiative to be successful, global strategies have to be customised to suit local needs. For example, Unilever’s Global Reach with Local Roots and Agile Working initiatives developed tailored programmes to overcome possible barriers to women’s advancement in different regions of the world. It has “pick ‘n’ drop” facilities in areas of North Africa and the Middle East where women are not allowed to drive. In Pakistan, India, the Middle East and some parts of Japan, families are invited into the workplace to allay concerns about where women are spending their time.
When companies make these smart moves, everyone wins: what’s good for women is good for men, families, business, and the economy.
Laura Sabattini is a senior director and research chair for the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee at Catalyst.
By Laura Sabattini
Posted on May 23, 2013
Guardian | How can businesses boost their female talent pool?