Women these days can be CEOs, entrepreneurs, board directors, doctors, engineers and truck drivers.
And yet true gender equity at work — in terms of leadership, pay and promotion — is still a maybe-someday ideal.
Nearly 80% of global organizations do not formally prioritize the advancement of women, despite research showing that doing so is good for a company’s bottom line. That’s according to a new survey of 2,300 executives worldwide by IBM’s Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics.
Of the organizations where the executives worked, the study found only 18% of top leadership positions — from senior managers to the C-suite — were occupied by women.
Why? For one thing, “organizations are over-relying on ‘good intentions’ and applying a laissez-faire approach to diversity,” according to the report.
In other words they’re not calling it out as a top business priority, which would mean setting goals and applying metrics to measure progress, as they do with other priorities.
For another, men underestimate how much gender bias there is. A full 65% of male executives in the survey said it’s just as likely they would have been promoted to their roles if they’d been women. And 68% say they believe their compensation would have been the same.
Nearly two-thirds of all respondents think the main reason there are not more women leaders is that they put family over career.
Some steps that can help advance women
About 12% of the organizations surveyed in the IBM study — most of which were legacy companies that have been around for more than 20 years — said they were serious about gender inclusion. They reported that they were motivated by the expectation that advancing women would benefit them financially. And they have made it a formal business priority.
And they reported numbers to prove it. They outperformed the other organizations surveyed in profitability and revenue growth. And they reported having a higher percentage of women in leadership positions: 14% of their C-suite roles were filled by women vs. just 9% in the other companies.
The IBM study found these so-called “First Mover” organizations had four things in common: They created career planning targeted to women’s requirements and aspirations, which include family commitments. They use the same metrics to measure men and women’s job performance and apply them equitably. They offer both genders equal career opportunities. And they encourage a work culture that embraces women’s leadership styles.
A separate survey of 300 HR executives in North America by Korn Ferry and the Conference Board found that while most leaders believe women have made great strides at work, two-thirds of the executives said there is inadequate representation at their companies of women in leadership positions.
“While nearly half of individual contributors are women, that percentage dwindles to little more than a fifth at the senior vice president and C-suite levels,” the Korn Ferry report said.
About 40% of the executives said they did not believe women were gaining the kinds of experience necessary to ascend. These include challenges early in their careers and stretch assignments throughout. Consequently, half the respondents don’t think there are enough women in the pipeline to fill leadership roles.
“Change will only happen when [Chief Human Resources Officers] and senior leaders display the courage to disrupt organizational culture and individual minds. This is a pivotal moment for Human Resources officers to double down on the interventions that are most effective in closing the parity gap and ushering in change,” the report recommended.
It identified three ways to move the needle closer to gender parity: monitoring and ensuring pay equity in leadership roles, giving women more exposure to senior leadership and programs that help women develop their careers.