Women in Leadership Panel, Executive Coaching Connections, LLC.

“Women in Leadership” was the focus of an expert panel discussion at ECC’s 2016 Global Learning Exchange. The panel presented a global perspective on trends, issues and challenges facing women in leadership roles around the world.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015, the number of women participating in the global labor force has increased by 250M since 2006 and yet global pay for women now equals what men were earning in 2006. 

From a senior leadership perspective, more women are participating on boards and executive committees globally, but women still remain significantly underrepresented. According to McKinsey’s 2012 report “The global gender agenda,” board representation is highest in Norway (40%) where the law requires publicly-held companies to have at least 40% female board participation, and lowest in Japan (2%). Female participation on executive committees is highest in Sweden (21%) and lowest in Japan (1%). In the U.S., women hold 15% of board seats and 14% of executive committee seats. 

The reasons for these disparities were explored and discussed by the Women in Leadership panelists. Here are five expert ideas to improve gender equality in your organization: 

  1. Tackle unconscious bias. 
    According to Sharon Brady, Executive Director of Leading Women Executives, unconscious bias is the most significant barrier to getting more women into C-suite roles. Unconscious (or implicit) bias occurs when our brains make quick decisions without our being aware of it. Unconscious bias shows up with men and women around the globe, and “…in lots of places, including how talent decisions are made,” according to Brady. Unconscious bias isn’t just a U.S. issue. In Latin America, for example, unconscious bias is one of the strongest influences driving a lack of gender equality. “Latin American women are losing ground,” according to Olga Lucia Toro, MS, MCC, ECC Affiliate from Colombia. This is especially true in traditionally male-dominated industries and int he public sector, where a country like Colombia descended 12 positions in the Gender Gap Index Report between 2013 and 2014, ranking 67 among 142 countries.

    How is your organization tackling unconscious bias? What training has your team received? As a leader, what policies can you personally help develop and drive?

  2. Focus on work/life integration. 
    Angie Wong, PCC, ECC Affiliate was born in Hong Kong and raised in a very traditional Chinese culture. According to Wong, “There’s a fixed notion of gender going back five thousand years, which puts an enourmous burden on woemn who have to attend not only to their direct family, but to their extended family as well.” Based on the yin and yang from traditional Chinese philosophy, women are taught to be nurturers and men are taught to be competitors. Women are also taught to silence their voices from a very early age and drive for perfection in all the roles they play at work and at home, which can lead to them opting out of senior leadership roles later in life. Referencing McKinsey’s “Women Matter: An Asian Perspective” report, the biggest barrier to increasing gender diversity within top management is the “double burden” syndrome, which relates to balancing work and family.

    Wong asked participants to consider the following: As a community, how do we support women to build resiliency? How do we build a culture that supports the yin and yang energy in each of us? 

  3. Understand the impact of culture on career decision-making.
    “We have a tendency to lump Asia Pacific all together, but we shouldn’t really do that. Each country is so different,” according to Jane Horan, Ed.D., ECC Affiliate in Singapore. One difference Horan shared was workforce participation rates: whereas some of the highest rates in Asia are in China and Singapore (45-48%), and the lowest are in India (29%).

    From a cultural perspective, familiy is included in a lot of decisions, particularly the extended family, and not just for women. Before taking a new job, a promotion or even time off, family is frequently consulted. While some research indicates that traditions, culture and family responsibilities hold women back, in my research women indicated that family support played a vital role in their success. "If it wasn't for my family support, I wouldn't be where I am today." 

    How well do you understand the cultural influences for female (and male) leaders in your organization? How might having a better understanding of these help your team and organization improve gender equality? 

  4. Set aggressive targets. 
    Ann Houston Kelley, MA, ECC Affiliate based in the U.S. and the Netherlands discussed European gender stereotypes and cultural practices. While Europe is generally viewed as having more family-friendly policies (such as paid maternity leave and government-funded day care), gender stereotypes persist. Some countries have improved gender diversity through legislation. A 2003 Norwegian law, for example, required 40% female board participation of publicly-held companies, which the country achieved in 2008. According to Kelley, the law led companies to look more broadly for female talent, including more experienced as well as younger women, which had a positive impact across the whole diversity & inclusion spectrum.

    How much more quickly could your organization accelerate progress by setting aggressive targets?

  5. Reframe the issue
    “How do we make masculine/feminine not be a gender issue, but instead a trait issue?” asked moderator, Agnes Mura, MA, MCC, ECC Affiliate from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mura’s comments align with those shared by Wong, recognizing that sometimes leadership calls for a more traditionally feminine (nurturing) style and other times a more traditionally masculine (competitive) style. By thinking about the traits that are most appropriate in a given situation and flexing your style, you can leverage all of your traits more fully. 

    Consider a current leadership challenge you’re facing. What traits are most important to demonstrate to move the situation forward? How might you need to flex your style? 


Sharon Brady described what research is increasingly telling us and what some leaders, teams and organizations already intuitively understand: “What’s good for women is good for business.” 

Accelerate business results and your leadership by thinking differently about gender equality. 

If you or your team could use some help advancing women leaders, ECC can help. Give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.

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