How Can We Create More Female Leaders

'When women do better, economies do better.'


The notion that increased gender equality in the workplace can benefit the economy is not new. A 2015 study by McKinsey found that $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women's equality is significantly advanced, but a huge disparity, of course, still exists. Whether you consider entry level jobs or C-suite positions, women are both underrepresented and less likely to progress than their male counterparts - just 4.5% of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 CEOs are women. The number of roles filled by women decreases at each advancing level of corporate structure. And according to McKinsey, at the current rate of progress, 'it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity' - some way off of the various world leaders' pledge to achieve parity by 2030. []

Though women remain underrepresented at every level, advancements, though modest, have been present in many areas. Fortune found that 26% of college presidents are women, women hold 20% of dean positions at business schools and they represent one in five partners in private law firms. But the benefits of having more women in senior positions are still widely under appreciated. A study from the Peterson Insitute for International Economics found that having at least 30% of women in leadership position adds 6% to net profit margin. Having women in senior positions isn't only in the interest of fairness, it's good business. 'The evidence on women in the C-suite is robust: no matter how we torture the data, we get the same result: women in the C-suite are associated with higher profitability,' Marcus Noland, director of studies at the Peterson Institute, told Quartz.

Many, like Laura D'Andrea Tyson, a professor at the Haas School at the University of Berkeley, believe that the conversation is actually too focused on fairness; the potential revenue benefits can be lost in the noise. ‘We have failed to make the business case,’ she told a panel at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Whatever your reasons for doing so, the advancement of women within your business should be made a priority. So, how can this be achieved?

Sponsorship over mentorship

Mentoring programs can be a great way of passing down learned leadership skills, and many women have and will benefit from the trickle down of skills that mentoring makes possible. But the programs are more effective for men, against which no promotion bias exists. To ensure that programs for women are effectual rather than notional, sponsorship should be more widely employed. Teresa Briggs, Vice Chair and West Region Managing Partner at Deloitte, wrote in Fortune that sponsors are in a far better position to aid progression than mentors, as they 'actively pursue opportunities on behalf of an individual. They are professional champions.'

The shared responsibility of the sponsorship arrangement necessitates greater involvement from the sponsor, and Briggs has 'seen firsthand how clearly defined and consistent sponsorship has proven to catapult more and more women into the senior ranks.' The success of the candidate is shared by the sponsor, and both women and men need to be involved in the sponsorship process to see real change.

Changes in the boardroom

The progress of women on boards has, for UK companies in particular, been fairly encouraging. With the share of female board members at FTSE 100 companies having risen from around 12.5% in 2010, to 26.1% in 2015, a report by Mervyn Davies has told UK firms that by 2020 33% of board positions should be held by women. All male boards have all but disappeared, too, going from 21 in 2010 (from the 500) to zero by March 2015. But in other countries, many boards will extol the benefits of greater parity, but do not feel the need to make changes, and there is too little pressure on chief executives to enact change.

Simplistic as it may seem, more women in the boardroom will equal more women in senior positions. A tight band of business leaders committed to enacting change will be necessary to get progress off of the ground - the pressure from the actions of peers can encourage male leaders to commit to similar change - but then it is the responsibility of both male and female boardroom members to ensure that proper progress is achieved. And changes can come from within the boardroom. According to Quartz, for example, 'countries that provide mandated maternity leave do not have more female leaders. But those with more paternity leave do.' Systemic changes like the introduction of proper paternity leave can help realign the perception of childcare as an element of one's career, and go some way to shifting the dynamics of the workplace for the better.

No one-size-fits-all solution will see the fair representation of women at a senior level, but it is hoped that a multifaceted approach - including the above examples - can accelerate change and ensure that the world is not left waiting a century for the benefits of gender parity. 

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