At a Ted Talk speech in 2010, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg described why there were too few women leaders.
Ten years only, despite progressive calls for greater recognition of their contribution or potential contribution to businesses, progress for women to leadership positions has actually declined.
According to the Institute for Business Value (IBV) study, Women, leadership and missed opportunities, gender equity is still not a top priority for 70% of global businesses.
The study noted that fewer women surveyed hold senior vice president, vice president, director and manager roles in 2021 than they did in 2019.
“The data show that many women leaders are experiencing challenges at this moment. If these issues are not addressed more deeply than in prior years, there is a risk of progress backsliding further,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, global markets, IBM and senior executive sponsor of the IBM Women's Community.
“We should seize creative solutions now and redouble our efforts to make meaningful, lasting change that can help all women reach their full potential.”
The study revealed that employees surveyed feel fatigued and waning optimism over ineffective programmatic efforts to address gender equity. Only 62% of women surveyed (down 9 percentage points from 2019) and 60% of men surveyed (down 7 percentage points from 2019) expect their organization will significantly improve gender parity over the next five years.
More programs don’t mean more progress
While the study recognised that more work is being done to promote awareness of gender equality, it also suggested that the effort has not translated to better outcomes in part because mindsets and cultures have not changed enough alongside the programs.
The “First Mover” advantage
The study identified a group (11%) of survey respondents referred to as “First Movers” who designate the advancement of women as a formal business priority, view gender-inclusivity as a driver of financial performance and are highly motivated to take action.
First Movers self-reported stronger financial performance – as much as a 61% higher mean rate of revenue growth compared to the mean reported by other organizations in our study – as well as stronger innovation and stronger customer and employee satisfaction.
A roadmap for sustainable progress
Following the example of First Movers, the report offers activities to help accelerate progress in gender equity in the workplace.
Pair bold thinking with big commitments
For example, make gender equity a top five formal business priority, and create pathways for women to re-enter the workforce.
Apply specific crisis-related interventions
For example, additional benefits like backup childcare support and access to mental health resources can be key. Other recent IBV research found that the best performing CEOs say they are committed to supporting the wellbeing of their employees, even at the cost of profitability or budget.
Create a culture of intention, and insist on making room
Focus on empathetic leadership and enabling middle managers to be advocates for positive cultural change. People leaders can intentionally champion inclusive team cultures, with flexibility aligned to individuals’ personal and professional needs, and set accountability into business and individual goals to sponsor the future pipeline of women leaders.
Use technology to accelerate performance
Organizations can use technologies like AI to help reduce bias in the candidate screening process, provide cloud-based digital tools for communication and feedback to surface what’s working and what’s not in supporting women in the workplace, and invest in collaborative tools and teaming practices that allow women and men to engage effectively in physical and remote environments even after the pandemic abates.