Will Women Ever Make it to the Top?

Did you know that just 9% of CEO positions globally are held by women? And only 21% of Senior Management jobs? Given that almost half of civilian jobs in the OECD are held by women, and that the majority of senior HR executives have acknowledged gender diversity is a priority, then why are women still so under-represented in senior management roles?

A knee-jerk response to this question is that women take time out of the workforce to have children, which inevitably sets them back in their careers, making it less likely for them to get to the top. While this is certainly part of the issue that needs to be managed, it goes far wider than this. Recent research reveals that this gender diversity gap can be related to five key themes: a culture of requiring office presence; a lack of off- and on-ramping procedures for women who temporarily leave the workforce; male-oriented selection criteria; a lack of gender diversity awareness among managers and inadequate management of leadership pipelines.

So what can be done to ensure that women are making it to senior management roles given the breadth of the problem? With the majority of HR executives in organisations recognizing that gender diversity is a priority and 60% of organisations implementing initiatives to try to address it, it seems that whatever we are currently doing isn’t working.

It’s not all bad news though. The themes highlighted above can be addressed if a company is committed to improving gender diversity in senior leader roles. For example, this research highlights that it takes time for women to move from junior and middle management levels into executive positions, so interventions aiming to increase the pace at which this is happening—and the numbers of women involved is one idea. Another example is a “return to work” initiative that assists women to enter and exit the organisation after breaks such as maternity leave, while keeping them in the loop with the organisation through training, newsletters and so on.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, so the key is defining relevant and measurable actions for your company. The first step in this process is identifying what is causing the problem in your organisation, and then implementing initiatives that address the core issues.  Finding the cause of the problem means digging deep – getting quantitative data on the number of women hired, comparisons between the time taken for men and women to move from middle to senior management roles and so on. In addition, peoples’ perceptions are key so gathering qualitative information around the barriers women perceive will be vital.

Why not start this process today? Finding the right talent at the senior leadership level and ensuring that talent stays with your organisation is fundamental. So, surely it’s to everyone’s benefit if both the best skilled and highest performing men and women are moving into these ranks?

Dyrchs, S. & Strack, R. (2012). Shattering the Glass Ceiling, An Analytical Approach to Advancing Women into Leadership Roles. Boston Consulting Group.


2 thoughts on “Will Women Ever Make it to the Top?

  1. Mark Thomas

    Interesting post, Heather. 53% of students in my Strategy class are women. It is terrible to know that less than half will make it to senior management level. The challenges are numerous. Lucy Kellaway wrote an interesting article in the Financial Times a few weeks ago.

    Jobs, motherhood and varieties of wrong

    The basic message was that mothers are condemned if they don’t work and condemened if they do. A no win situation.


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