Gender parity has come far over the last fifty years, but when it comes to women in leadership positions, we are still nowhere near where we should be. Women make up half of the US workforce yet still fill just 3% of senior leadership positions at Fortune 500s.
Having more women in leadership roles can deliver numerous benefits, particularly through the diversity of ideas that drive innovation. A Forbes survey found that 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed ‘a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation.’ Women also contribute a degree of empathy that men, without meaning to generalize, lack. In a recent survey by executive search firm the RSA, 62% of respondents said that they believed ‘women bring empathy and intuition to leadership’, while women were also rated far higher than men for intuition and possessing greater awareness of the motivations and concerns of other people.
The reasons for this are complex and societal, and there is much that everybody can do to change the situation, from governments to the man on the street. However, within organizations, it should be HR teams that take the lead. We asked three experts what they believed HR leaders should do to help ease women’s path to leadership positions.
Ilene Fischer, former CEO of WomenLEAD, Inc.
HR departments can identify women that are ready to grow in their careers and support them in taking on new roles and work with them to get promoted. Many women need operational and financial backgrounds and experience to move into senior positions and HR departments can help by offering training and development in those areas and by identifying jobs that will provide women with the experience they need in those areas to get promoted.
Olga V. Mack, founder of WomenServeOnBoards.com
Inclusion of women must start at the top – the board of directors and leadership. Any company’s board of directors and leadership model shows their managers, employees, investors, customers, and the rest of the world how women should be treated and whether they should be included. Many companies claim to care about gender equality and including women in business. But we should question that claim when it comes from companies with no or very few women in board and leadership positions. Therefore, HR and strategy departments must work closely1 with boards of directors and leadership to include women at every level of the organization.
Letizia Amadini-Lane, VP, Strategic Alliances at SBP
I personally think that HR can’t encourage women to step into leadership positions if HR doesn’t design and implement a strategic and multi-pronged approach that is set to recognize and operate within a much bigger system. For example, instead of promoting a 'balanced-life' and sending women to Yoga classes during working hours, they - we all - should support an 'integrated-life'. That is very different. If we think about it, the simple act of ‘balancing’ is a tremendous expenditure of energy and a very difficult status to maintain: it is 'either or'. If instead, we integrate, we not only simplify life, we free energy that can be used in more focused and effective ways. If the babysitter doesn’t show up, bring your child with you and have little chairs in your office or in open space!