Five ways to advance women leadership in the workplace


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The past few years have been great for gender inclusivity in the workplace. Just this January, Willis Towers Watson Data Services reported a 12 percent decrease in the gender pay gap among employees aged 30 to 40, compared to data from 2018.

Despite these efforts, however, women are still a minority in high leadership roles. Only 4.8 percent of the 2018 Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs — this, effectively robbing their companies of the potential advantages of better representation, such as effective mentorship and fresh business approaches.

With such an enormous gap to close at the top level, companies have to go beyond a passive attitude towards equality. Here are five concrete ways you can boost female leadership in your organization, based on the IBM Institute for Business Value’s study “Women, leadership, and the priority paradox”.

Make advancing women a formal business priority

Gender equality must become a strategic priority and not simply a “nice-to-have”. It must be included in a company’s mission statement and have KPIs, budget, and assigned resources like any other business plan. And to further cement the company’s resolve, senior leaders must be put in charge of the initiative For example, Johnson and Johnson’s Chief Diversity Officer reports directly to their Chairman and CEO.

Get leaders involved and accountable

It’s one thing to make plans and another to execute them. Making your leaders accountable for these plans will help ensure that they’re implemented. But instead of harsh penalties, leaders can instead be offered incentives for achieved objectives. For goals that aren’t met, action plans for improvement must be created so that they aren’t just glossed over.

It’s also important that both leaders and employees concretely share their commitment to the cause. Professional services firm EY has an entire blog dedicated to women advancement, which includes interviews on company leaders on the topic.

Co-create goals for measurable progress

Having a sense of ownership over a project goes a long way. Instead of mandating goals, have your leaders get proactively involved by helping set them. They can start by auditing their respective teams to determine which ones have a deficit of women in leadership roles. A subsequent investigation will shed light on the reasons why, which will help in creating measurable goals.

Once that’s done, check that these goals are consistent with legal requirements and truly promote a culture of inclusivity. Note that timelines should be included to help make your employees more aggressive. For instance, Sodexo set a 2025 deadline for their goal to have female workers comprise 40 percent of their leadership.

Embrace initiatives and policies to alleviate unconscious gender bias

Despite good intentions, there are times when our judgments are clouded by an unconscious gender bias. Companies can identify these perceptions by investigating groups with consistently fewer acknowledged women outperformers. In a similar fashion, P&A Grant Thornton Philippines conducts surveys with their female employees to identify possible barriers to promotion. “[It helps us] see the additional specific interventions that we may have to do to address these,” said Marivic Españo, chairperson and CEO.

Salaries must be equal for all genders, which includes adjusted compensation for old female employees. And recruitment and promotion must be just as gender-blind. For instance, companies can mandate at least one female candidate for every leadership opening, followed by proper documentation if she’s not chosen for the job.

Foster a culture of inclusion

At the end of the day, the goal is to create a truly inclusive culture for every employee. This means extending a hand to male workers as well, who face stifling traditional expectations like women do.

For example, there’s a presumption that they prefer to work long hours in the office rather than go home. Flexible work hours and paternity leave will not only free men from this expectation but also reinforces that domestic responsibilities are for both genders. Accenture Philippines offers 30 consecutive calendar days for paternity leave. Female employees can also transfer 30 days from their 120-calendar day maternity leave to a secondary caregiver such as a spouse, life partner, or relative.