Advancing More Women Into Leadership Roles

[Editors note: International Women’s Day (March 8) is a call to the masses and yourself to forge a more inclusive and gender equal working world. HR Expert Pierre Battah shares his incredible advice on what you can do to close the gender leadership gap. #BeBoldForChange #IWD2017.] 

Advances have been made when it comes to seeing women in senior leadership roles, but we still have a long way to go. Women represent half of our workforce, but a much smaller percentage occupy leadership positions. In fact, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women, women in CEO positions make up less than 5 percent of S&P 500 companies. And based on the size of the organization, women CEO’s earn between 6 and 8 percent less than their male counterparts.

The AAUW study recommends narrowing the gender leadership gap by addressing it as individuals, employers and policy makers. This starts with recognizing whether you have an implicit bias or not. Give this test a try. 

We all have gender schemas which we learn very early in life. It’s important to understand that we hold these bias’ and we must keep it in mind as a person and as an employer when we look at job applicants, consider promotions, etc.

The Aspirations of Men and Women

The path to a senior leadership position is a strenuous climb full of external elements which can make or break a person. According to a recent Bain & Company and LinkedIn survey, women have the harder route with much more complex terrain and force wind requiring much more energy and perseverance. In turn, a women’s aspiration and confidence can decrease over time.

Essentially, more women aspire to senior leadership roles than men, and both have the same confidence – early in their careers. The troubling news is that women’s confidence seems to diminish over time. There is evidence that more women than men aged 22 to 34 are, as a result, dissatisfied with their career progression. The reasons behind inclusion and diversity in senior leadership roles have been well researched and documented – and they all point to increased effectiveness and profitability.

Read: 5 reasons small companies need a people strategy

What I find most compelling is that long held perceptions of the “ideal candidate” for advancement have not changed much. Long hours and an “always working” perception are the norm for getting a promotion. It is heartening, though, to see that organizations are starting to break this “ideal candidate” stereotype and assessing candidates based on leadership competencies and more nuanced capabilities like the ability to juggle multiple priorities and the capacity to motivate teams.

Support for Women Is Paramount

Also interesting is understanding that what happens to women on a daily basis early in their careers, as they relate to their immediate supervisor, has a huge impact on their future career. Gender equity policies and objectives, top management commitment to gender parity, promotion based on competencies and moving beyond outdated biases are all crucial, but the support women get early in their careers is paramount.

Bosses need to engage women in the types of conversations that explore their interests, their potential and, most importantly, how they can support them in fulfilling their career ambitions.

Read: How to promote a healthy work-life balance

Meaningful action by both male and female managers to celebrate, promote and champion the “in balance worker” and leaders who speak freely of their struggles and successes in integrating work and home life can also have a huge impact.

Many world class organizations such as Deloitte, Kimberly-Clark, Shell Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway and others are promoting women into leadership roles through sound policies and innovative approaches to inclusion. This includes on what basis they choose to promote and how they redefine role models for aspiring women early on in their careers.

Women need to find and be a role model

Though advice for organizations, managers, and individuals is plentiful, I am drawn to the guidance offered by Women of Influence Inc. They are an organization dedicated to the advancement of professional women. The group, in addition to suggesting tried and true approaches to organizational and managerial accountability for the inclusion of women in leadership roles, also insists that women need to “Find a role model – and be one… you can’t be what you can’t see.” They remind us that “whether you’re a parent, an aunt, an uncle or a close friend, everyone has a role to play in raising children with strong values who model inclusive behavior.”

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