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  • Developing Women Leaders: Eliminating Bias, Providing Support

    March 15, 2019 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A female employee smiles.

    TAGS: best practices, diversity and inclusion, trends and predictions, leadership, nace insights

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    A recent study of the representation of women leaders has found that progress to increase the percentage of women at each level of the leadership pipeline has stalled.

    “There is balance among the genders at the ‘individual contributor’ level, but it begins to drop off significantly when we look at that first foray into leadership,” explains Rebecca Ray, executive vice president, human capital for The Conference Board, which conducted the study—titled “Effective Leadership Development Strategies at Pivotal Points for Women”—with Korn Ferry.

    At the aforementioned individual contributor level, 48.8 percent are women. The percentage of women drops in manager (39.8 percent) and senior manager (34.0 percent) roles, and continues to fall.

    Study participants indicated that, on average, having 46 percent of women in VP roles and above would constitute adequate representation of women. However, the actual percentages at the VP (27.6 percent), SVP/GM (22.2 percent), and C-suite (22.5 percent) levels fall well short of this benchmark.

    “It is largely a function of processes that do not help leaders become aware of their hidden biases and then hold them accountable for helping women progress in their leadership journey,” Ray explains.

    For example, when asked to identify reasons why progress in this area has been slow, study participants point to, among other factors, hiring manager mindset and bias (conscious or unconscious).

    Ray says that organizations can identify and eliminate the bias that exists in their systems or processes by:

    • Offering proper training—Hiring managers need be trained to be sensitive to unconscious bias, which can keep women, minorities, military veterans, or any other group from being judged solely on their credentials. And then they need to be held accountable for increasing the representation of women and minorities in the leadership ranks.
    • Diligently reviewing the organization’s technology—If using automated systems that rely on automation/artificial intelligence to source and screen applicants, be sure to systematically review the outcomes in the event that algorithms contain biases.

    Among respondents whose organizations have successfully made progress in increasing the representation of women, the following approaches were noted as most effective:

    • Monitoring and ensuring pay equity across men and women in leadership roles;
    • Programs that provide senior women leaders regular exposure to the CEO and senior executive team;
    • Recognition programs promoting successful women leaders as role models;
    • Placement programs to put women leaders into “stretch” roles in business line, finance, or operations jobs; and
    • Individualized development plans for women leaders.

    The report notes that successful organizations focus on ensuring women have opportunities to gain experience and exposure to operational roles. This exposes women to fundamental aspects of the business, such as how it makes money, how product decisions are made, and how to manage a profit and loss center. These experiences build a track record relevant to important business outcomes—and higher levels of leadership.

    “Everyone needs support,” Ray says. “Women need help in understanding how the heavier burden of work/life integration that falls on their shoulders can be mitigated by supportive managers and the organization.”