Why does gender inequality exist in leadership?

03-09-2015

Since organisations in the top tier of financial performance have more women in leadership roles, why does gender inequality still exist in leadership?

After reading the research undertaken by DDI Worldwide regarding diversity and gender inequality I was very keen to learn more about why this underrepresentation exists. Therefore I decided, with one of our directors, to sponsor the American Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership Executive Tutorial to learn more about gender inequality in leadership.

My colleague Kerry Metcalfe-Smith, Director Organisational Development, BSI Learning opened the tutorial with the Current Situation of Women in Leadership. Following Kerry was Tanya Gilerman, Partner, Financial Services, Audit, KPMG who discussed how KPMG Create an Environment to Support, Mentor, Retain and Grow Women in Leadership Roles.

Kerry had undertaken substantive research into gender inequality in leadership roles and presented to us the Leaky Pipeline. Her research uncovered that organisations lose 50% of women at each hierarchical level of management, and this was supported by the AICD findings in 2012 that men are nine times more likely to be promoted into senior executive roles than women.

The question is, why does a leaky pipeline exist?

Kerry presented two interesting findings:

  • Workforce participation affects leadership roles - more women work part time and casual hours than men (DDI Worldwide)
  • Midcareer confidence - aspiration and confidence is low to move into top management (DDI Worldwide)

However, is it fair to ask women to take on leadership roles whilst they are working part time? And is it also realistic for companies to provide their leaders with flexible working hours when they need them to lead and develop high performing teams?

Kerry listed a number of solutions for organisations including:

  • Providing sponsorship and development opportunities for women
  • Removing the barriers to appointing more women into leadership roles
  • Focusing on the middle talent pipeline - to avoid the Leaky Pipeline
  • Promoting flexible working practices
  • Making every manager accountable for building an inclusive culture.

Kerry’s solutions suggest that part time work/flexible hours should not be creating gender inequality in leaders.

OK Kerry, that’s all well and good in theory but how does it work in real life?

Enter Tanya Gilerman of KPMG. Tanya presented to us the ways in which a global consulting firm has increased their number of women leaders due to the vision of KPMGs CEO regarding gender equality in leadership. In June 2015, of the 51 new partners appointed, 56% of internal partner promotions were women, and some of them were on maternity leave

”Leadership”, Tanya announced, “is about the job, not the gender.” KPMGs goal is to not lose talent. It’s to invest in their people and provide all team members equal opportunities for promotion regardless of their personal situation and need for flexible hours. The consequence of not doing so is the loss of productivity, innovation and talent.

So as Tanya spoke it became increasingly evident that Kerry’s solutions were indeed realistic.  Below are a number of points Tanya shared regarding supporting women in leadership:

  • Provide flexible return to work arrangements to include:
    • Working from home
    • Reduced work load after return to work
    • Access to phone and computer to keep in touch with the team during leave
  • Future Leaders Program - which fast tracks high performers with access to senior leaders as mentors. If the gender ratio is not equal for this group, the company has to rethink its choices.
  • Challenge the organisational culture.  Just because somebody is working three days a week, male or female, why can they not be promoted?

KPMG, like any other organization, want to promote the best person for the job. But the real difference I saw, and Tanya demonstrated was that KPMG want to give women and men the same opportunity to develop into the best person for the job, regardless of their personal needs.

I’ll leave you with a takeaway from KPMG, the “If not, then why not?” question leaders must ask themselves. For instance:

If there aren’t part time leaders in your organisation, then why not?

If there aren’t flexible working arrangements in your organisation, then why not?

When you have great talent you need to hold onto, why let traditional definitions of a workweek let them slip through your fingers?

 

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