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Panel Discussion: What Can Be Done To Get More Women In Senior Positions?

Progress is being made, but we need to do more

8Mar

According to a recent study by professional services firm Grant Thornton, women now hold one in four senior roles at companies around the world. This is up 1% on 2016, although the percentage of companies that had no female participation at senior level globally also went up by a percentage point in 2017 to 34%, so whether or not we can say there has been any real progress is up for debate.

To the extent that you can say this is progress, it is certainly not at any discernible pace. Many organizations now have programs in place to redress the imbalance, but they need to be doing more. The business case for increasing diversity in the workplace is strong, and from a purely business perspective, companies that do not do everything they can to get women in high positions are missing out a significant amount of value.

We asked five female business leaders what they think is behind the lack of women in senior positions, and what could be done about it.

Belen Pamukoff, Brand Director at Heineken

As a woman, we need to support each other, and stop competing. We need to mentor other women and create a constant communication with each other to build a network of support. We need to participate in events like the Women in Strategy Summit and other events that lift women up and nurture the feminine side of business. I often notice that we as women will try to mimic the masculine energy that is dominant in the workplace, but we need to resist that urge and just be ourselves. Corporations and the world in general needs more natural feminine energy.

Olga V. Mack, Founder of WomenServeOnBoards.com

We should stop asking the question of how much value women bring to a company! After all, numerous studies suggest that women as a group have numerous strengths and that their participation in a company’s leadership maximizes long-term shareholder value. At some point, we should re-frame and ask, 'Why have women been excluded in the first place? And what should we do now to correct this problem soon?' It may mean that we need to recruit women more aggressively or invest in women proactively and grow talent internally. We need to act now, not just talk about the benefits of including women!

There is also the issue of getting professionals to stand up and demand more women in senior positions. I’ve received several emails saying, 'I support your movement, but I can’t publicly sign your petitions.' Many men and women fear professional or social backlash for 'rocking the boat' by publicly criticizing companies’ lack of women. This collective silence is holding us back and keeping us from progressing into a future of gender equality! Consumers and professionals alike shouldn’t let fear keep them from speaking out. In turn, companies should listen to their customers and employees when they say it’s time for more women in senior positions.

Ilene Fischer, former CEO of WomenLEAD, Inc.

I think there are certain positions and industries where you find more women in senior positions eg: HR positions, Chief Administration Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and in the Healthcare and Education industries.

Technology seems to be the industry that is suffering most from a lack of women in senior positions and the lack of gender equality. The Harvard Business Review study: The Athena Report shines light on the issues for women in STEM careers - it points to 50% of women leaving their STEM careers mid-career because of a lack of role models, mentors, uncertain career paths, and non-supportive work environments. In all of my research I have found that women do not ask for what they want at work and in fact, in 2014 there was a McKinsey report that showed that all things being equal, women will ask for 30% less salary than a man. Given these two studies, I think companies, should offer mentoring for women to help them in their career, provide them role models and to help women to learn to ask and negotiate for what they need at work.

Letizia Amadini-Lane, VP, Strategic Alliances at SBP

There is a lot of discussion about the lack of women in senior positions and some good thinking on how to address it. My personal perspective is: ‘You are a woman, I am a woman. I know how hard it is to stand for women’s values in a highly patriarchal society. Let's not betray our reality.' What I mean is that women in senior positions need to bring other women along the journey. Women in more junior positions need to seek mentorship and guidance from senior women. It cannot be an individualistic approach; it must be a collective action even if at the very core it is still a personal journey. At different stages of my career, I had three incredible very senior women, who mentored me and 'pulled me up'. They encouraged me to go where I might never have dared to go alone, and I would have not progressed and developed if it wasn’t for them. If a senior woman in your company doesn’t want to offer her support and mentorship…move to the next one.

Gina Helfrich, Co-founder of recruitHER

Children as young as 3 begin adopting gender-stereotypical behaviors, so there’s no doubt that this is a far-reaching and systemic problem. The 'leaky pipeline' that pushes girls and young women out of science and math is 100% real but also 100% fixable. Important research by the AAUW has confirmed that most of our ‘pipeline problem’ for educating girls in STEM is simply related to stereotypes that are both inaccurate and harmful - it has nothing to do with intrinsic aptitude or inclination. For example, exposing STEM students to examples of prominent women who have been STEM pioneers increases the likelihood that girls will persist. (Can you name one famous woman in science, math, or engineering besides Marie Curie?)

On the other hand, companies are not off the hook. More than 50% of women leave tech by mid-career, largely due to unfriendly or downright hostile workplaces. It has nothing to do with having babies, although more generous paid parental leave would certainly help to retain more women in tech. Companies need to implement the types of benefits and workplace policies that are friendly to women and create productive teams, such as salary transparency and flexible work hours. Companies also need to make it standard that all hiring, promotion, and advancement processes are insulated against unconscious bias, which has a huge negative effect on women’s representation in the industry.

You can hear more from leading women in industry about how they are overcoming the challenges they face in the workplace at the Women In Strategy summit, taking place this March 21-22 in New York. Register for your pass here.

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