Women make up about 50% of the workforce, and yet account for only 14% of CEO positions. The “glass ceiling” is seemingly bulletproof at this point, more than half a century since the feminist movement.
So what exactly is the problem?
One DDI & Conference Board study found that organizations with better financial performance had more women in leadership positions. To break it down, the top 20% had 37% women leaders whereas the bottom 20% had 19% women leaders. Industries that rank in the top 20% include healthcare, education, retail, insurance, pharmaceuticals, business services, financial services, and consumer products.
Another study by Catalyst.org found that Fortune 500 companies with 3 or more female board members performed better than those without. Specifically, 53% more return on equity, 42% more return on sales and 66% more return on invested capital.
So combine the facts with the changing times, more focus on equal rights, the gender pay gap, and an overall socially conscious climate calling for reform. Are big companies listening? And if so, what are they doing to incorporate modernity into best practices?
Difficult as it is, big companies like IBM, Abbott, and Ernst & Young have adapted to bringing women into executive leadership roles, with women making up 40% of the top 10% earners at these companies. Setting such standards with a top-down model allows corporate culture to trickle down, creating a culture of progress and inclusion.
On a more global scale, countries like Germany and Norway have implemented gender equality into law – setting quotas for executive positions. For example, Norway’s law requires 40% of board members of public companies to be held by women. While Berlin passed a law requiring some of Europe’s largest companies to fill 30% of its supervisory seats with women.
With progress being made by these companies and countries, how are companies developing women in leadership?
Understand and Acknowledging the Differences
Men have different leadership characteristics from women that, because they dominate the business world, have come to be accepted as the norm for what a leader should look like – aggressive, bold, opinionated, and forceful. However, women are not men. This is obvious, so why then do we expect the same tendencies?
Rather than having a singular view of what leadership should look like, open the door for different approaches. Women’s leadership styles tend to be more interactive, collaborative, and cooperative. This leads to strong team morale and an organic sense of commitment to achieve business goals collectively. As such, women should use their own talents, unique insights, life experiences, and strengths rather than accommodating to the male-dominated norms.
Make the Physical and Systematic Change to the Workplace
Remember when Apple and Facebook announced offers to freeze women’s eggs?
Take it how you want, but these heavyweights were using it as an incentive for women to continue working, and still have the option to have a family.
More approachable incentives include one by Netflix, which offers unlimited paid parental leave. Companies who might not otherwise be able to afford such allowances are still doing their part by building on-site day care centers or designing remote work days into schedules, all of which allow the flexibility to continue working without having to choose between one or the other.
Another thing to consider is having career paths for customized for women employees. Such paths should be adaptable and supported with developmental resources to make leadership positions attainable.
One such example includes Deloitte, which started the Women’s Initiative (WIN) to create a women-friendly corporate culture. It’s focus in leadership and development programs has restructured its rigid corporate ladder to become both flexible and customizable according to the shifting needs of women. This latticed styled pathway resulted in a significant increase in women leadership from 6% in 1995 to 22% in 2009.
Mentorship and What It Looks Like
Talent development is a whopping $130 billion industry, with the potential to save many HR directors and managers the headache of not only retaining employees but also developing current employees in the pipeline, in an efficient and effective manner.
IBM and Deloitte, for example, match promising women employees with top leaders to create visibility, break down unconscious biases, and build confidence for women while learning from each other.
According to Terri A. Scandura, a professor and dean of the graduate school at the University of Miami, most Fortune 500 companies employ mentoring as a developmental tool with 71% of them implementing such programs. For women who need a sense of community, a mirror for success, and a flow of resources to build confidence, mentorship offers the potential to alleviate some of the stress associated with working in a vacuum devoid of feedback, constructive criticism, and check-ins.
The Bottom Line?
Women still have ways to go before getting rid of the notion of a glass ceiling, but companies have taken notice of women and the importance of implementing new and innovative ways to develop them. At the end of the day, this means companies are profiting and saving money at the same time.