Let’s Be Like Justin and Move the Needle on Gender Parity in Leadership

Three steps companies can take right now to eliminate the gender gap in business leadership ranks.

Last fall, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made news by nominating 15 women to his 30-person Cabinet. Time magazine reported that when asked why, the newly-elected leader said, “Because it’s 2015.”
If that’s not taking action to ensure gender parity in the workplace, I don’t know what is.
More action is needed. Despite the fact that women account for 50% of the global workforce, less than 25% have senior leadership roles. Years of hand-wringing and well-intentioned programs have failed to close this gender gap. Recent research by ManpowerGroup underscores the problem. Asked when gender parity will be achieved, more than 200 emerging and established leaders in 25 countries said it will take, on average, 17 years to achieve. That’s at least a generation away. 
It’s clear that we need to follow the Prime Minister’s lead and move from just talking about diversity to taking actions that really move the needle.  Here are three critical roadblocks to gender parity in leadership and how I believe Right Management can help.
REMOVING UNCONSCIOUS BIAS. In the survey, leaders said the greatest barrier to progress is an entrenched male culture. Among other things, that means leadership criteria are usually defined according to male standards, where self-confidence and self-promotion can be mistaken for leadership qualities. As a result, individuals exhibiting those traits are funneled into the leadership pipeline and given opportunities denied to others who may lead differently but still effectively. To avoid masculine stereotypes in identifying leadership candidates, organizations need assessments that are inherently gender-neutral to ensure that leaders are identified based on traits that are predictive of future success in leadership roles.  Attributes such as intellectual curiosity, drive, adaptability, and endurance prepare individuals to lead in dynamic times. It is the individual’s leadership DNA that needs to go under the microscope – not his or her chromosomes. 
REPLACING PERFORMANCE REVIEWS. In the research, one-third of Millennial females (34 years old and younger) said that no one in their organization supports women in leadership. These and other women feel stymied—unable to express their aspirations candidly with managers and unable to find sponsors who will champion their growth. Instituting a robust Career Conversation process is how an increasing number of companies are addressing this issue. They are training managers how to have ongoing dialogues that help their reports clarify professional goals, navigate career options, find relevant opportunities for skill-building, and set clear goals with timeframes and metrics for their development. Ongoing Career Conversations are at the core of a culture committed to gender parity. They add structure and accountability to women’s quest for acceptance in leadership roles at all levels—and build it into the fabric of the organization.    
REIMAGINING LEADERSHIP PATHWAYS. Most women want to advance their careers.  For some, progress means moving upwards for more interesting work and greater responsibilities.   For others, it means moving laterally across organizational boundaries into new and exciting areas of career opportunity.  Women with leadership aspirations are tired of being shunted into the “pink ghettoes” of HR and communications. They would prefer a flexible workplace culture that encourages transverse mobility so they can develop their skills and advance their careers in meaningful ways. They want to work for an organization that truly understands their need for work-life integration, and provides support to help them. 
These actions – reducing unconscious bias in leader identification, instituting Career Conversations, and creating flexible pathways for advancement – will do more than benefit women. They will help create a people-oriented workplace culture in which all employees can grow and thrive while helping the organization succeed. Conscious inclusion is about giving every person a seat at the table and ensuring their human potential is valued.  To learn more about the issue of gender parity in leadership and how to be champion for change, download our white paper
Related Articles: 
Women and Leadership: What is Your Culture Mirroring?
A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen!
Leader Development: Solve for Women and Solve for X&Y