What would it mean for your organization to achieve C-suite gender equality before your competition?
Gender equality is a popular topic right now, partly because of the significant opportunity it represents for organizations. Teams that are inclusive and diverse tend to perform at higher levels and experience less attrition, according to the Corporate Executive Board.
It’s also popular because it represents a collective leadership challenge.
“At the current pace of progress, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite. If NASA launched a person into space today, she could soar past Mars, travel all the way to Pluto and return to Earth 10 times before women occupy half of C-suite offices. Yes, we’re that far away,” according to Sheryl Sandberg. This was how she framed the issue in a recent Wall Street Journal article and video describing LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2015 report. The study, which included data from 118 companies and approximately 30,000 employees, found that while modest improvements have been made, “…women remain underrepresented at every corporate level. And it turns out the drop-off in senior ranks is not mainly due to attrition. Women, on average, are not leaving these companies at higher rates than men. Rather, they face more barriers to advancement and are less likely to reach senior leadership positions.”
In addition to providing helpful pointers for leaders and organizations wanting to understand their talent pipelines, the report discusses a number of robust solutions to affect deeper culture change.
Here are 5 things you can start doing today to help your organization realize greater competitive advantage through improved gender equality:
- Educate yourself. LeanIn.Org has done some excellent work related to gender bias education. According to Stanford University Professor, Shelley Correll, a bias is an “error in decision-making.” And, while biases are real, they’re not inevitable. Gender biases frequently appear in decision-making processes like hiring and performance reviews. The report outlines four types of gender bias that women leaders face: likeability bias, performance evaluation bias, performance attribution bias, and maternal bias. To learn more about these and other types of bias, consider watching Professor Correll’s video called Creating a Level Playing Field. You’ll also find a discussion guide you can use with your team.
- Vouch for women leaders. Introductions matter. When a leader introduces someone by highlighting their key accomplishments and experiences, others tend to take notice. Research has demonstrated that this is particularly true for women leaders. When women are introduced as leaders with competence, this strongly influences how they’re perceived. One simple way you can help counter bias is by vouching for women leaders. You can do this by speaking to their contributions and accomplishments, when you facilitate introductions. As a next step, identify an upcoming opportunity to introduce a woman leader. Learn more about her background, and give thought to how you can convey her competence to others.
- Be visible and authentic. In addition to holding yourself and others accountable for gender equality metrics, you can affect change by serving as an advocate for women’s groups within your organization. Demonstrate your support by publicly sponsoring high-potential women and connecting the dots for others, highlighting investments your organization is making (or will make) to support women and inclusion efforts. Most importantly, consider how you personally connect to gender equality. Build these insights into your communication with others so that you speak with conviction and authenticity.
- Support work-life programs. While the majority of companies surveyed for the LeanIn.Org/McKinsey report have robust work-life programs, they’re highly underutilized because employees fear being penalized for accessing them. According to the report, “More than 90 percent of women and men believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work.” If your organization offers programs like telecommuting, coaching sessions, or sabbaticals, consider how you might role model their use. Ensure team members know about the work-life programs available to them, and support team members who utilize these benefits.
- Be a sponsor. The LeanIn.Org/McKinsey report found that men and women tend to have very different professional networks. While network size is similar, “…their composition is different: men predominantly have male networks, while women have mostly female or mixed networks. Given that men are more likely to hold leadership positions, women may end up with less access to senior-level sponsorship.” A sponsor is a senior leader who goes to bat for you, advocates on your behalf, and provides support. They also influence important decisions regarding pay, assignments, and promotions. If you’re not already doing so, consider sponsoring a high-potential woman leader in your organization. Consider other ways you can help women leaders expand their networks.
Help your organization reach its full potential by demonstrating leadership on gender equality.