Gender equality in the workplace is an ongoing issue. The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) analyzed a global survey of 21,980 companies and found that 60% had no female board members, 50% had no women in senior executive or corporate board positions, and only 5% had a female CEO. While historically it has been rare for female representation in the executive levels of management, companies with female leadership have been found to be more profitable, effective, and well-rounded. Businesses need to refine their policies and programs in order to develop and support women as leaders.
Research has demonstrated numerous benefits to gender diversity in upper management. The PIIE global survey found an increase from zero to 30% female representation in corporate leadership increased a firm's net revenue margin by 15%. Another study from McKinsey & Company found that businesses with at least two women in corporate board positions did 41% better than the sector's average return on equity and 56% better in operating profit. The study concludes that the improvement in performance is linked to the unique perspectives, leadership traits, and behavioral styles women bring to a management team. Women often listen to the needs and concerns of the individual and focus on mentoring, growth and development, recognition, and accountability. On the other hand, men generally tend to focus on decision making, performance achievement, and coaching. The differing leadership styles can complement and enhance one another.
Policies and programs need to be put in place to close the gender gap. The aforementioned studies, along with the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum provide research-based best practices to recruit and retain top-performing women, some of which include:
- Leadership, from the CEO down, needs to visibly promote and contribute to gender diversity initiatives. Top-down leadership support can be seen in ongoing communication regarding gender diversity or by creating diversity-focused roles or teams.
- Create a leadership development and mentoring program that addresses the challenges women face in the workplace. Activities may include training, support groups, HR resources, and networking events.
- Offer work-life balance opportunities, including maternity and paternity leave, childcare assistance, work from home programs, and flexible work schedules.
- Update your recruitment program to focus on hiring and retaining talented women. It is important to have a talented pool of women to develop and support, not just a singular woman at the top.
The results are clear: female leadership can help a company with business growth, economic success, diversity, and balance. To minimize the gender gap that may exist in advancement to executive positions, businesses need to consider how to attract, develop, and promote female talent.