Business must walk the talk on women leaders

Print First published: January 13th 2019; Last Updated: February 2nd 2022

Despite professing a desire for more women in leadership positions, business is not following through with practical measures to make it happen, according to a report by the the Canada-U.S. Council for Advancement of Women. It calls for advancement for women to be treated with the same rigour and discipline as any other business priority.

City Hive view

Unless strong commitments are turned into action, businesses are risking delaying women’s progress into senior positions – against their own stated desires. The disruption to traditional business practice, for example from technology, is putting both opportunity and a necessity to innovate on the table, but it’s not being taken up sufficiently.

The report, Advancing Women as Leaders in the Private Sector, looks at leading Canadian and US listed companies, and the slow pace of change in leadership positions. It finds that while the commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high, it quickly falls down at the implementation phase as it’s not treated as a business priority. This means targets, measures and accountability.

It’s no coincidence that top performing companies are better at diversity – they are more organised and able to execute strategy, and this filters into other aspects of the business. And those businesses allow women and men to advance and thrive.

The report also finds that small companies are performing better, particularly in advancing women to senior levels. Small companies, of course, afford women the opportunity to be more visible and provide opportunities to develop and use more skills. But the influence of a large company making advances in gender equality would be really powerful across an industry.

The fifth and final report by the agency, which has designated five pillars for action on advancing women in business draws on original quantitative research from chief human resource officers or equivalent in 150 Canadian and 250 US companies. It lays the findings against Accenture research, Getting Equal 2018. This is a global survey of 22,000 university educated people globally, asking about workplace culture.

Key findings

    • Only one quarter of the companies interviewed had systematic measures in place for the advancement of women. These needed to be accompanied by senior-level commitment to be effective. Half of the companies were not closely considering women’s advancement, and only just over half said their CEO was personally committed to the issue.
    • While closer to two thirds reported a Board level person with accountability for gender equality, this did not necessarily translate into pressure on the management team for action, and only around 40% reported shareholder pressure.
    • Companies are failing to collect essential data to enable progress to be tracked and to assist with the identification of barriers to advancement – issues such as self-selection out of the workplace, or recruitment/ attrition data. Less than 40% of companies were looking at pay by gender.  
    • Roughly 40% had a plan to advance women to senior leadership roles, and the same to address the number of women in the hiring pipeline.
    • There are three top impacts from increasing the number of women in leadership:  better financial performance, higher earnings through innovation and the ability to narrow or close a gender pay gap. The latter, of course will contribute to a global rebalancing and increase of women’s income – research by Accenture estimated that the global income of women could increase by US$3.9 trillion by 2030 by reducing the pay gap by just one third.

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