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Gender parity still a low priority for many leaders

Wednesday, April 20, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Three-fourths of global executives surveyed believe c-suite gender parity will be achieved by 2030 — but fewer than half (44 percent) of c-level executives say their companies have specific goals for achieving it, according to a recent study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research.

C-suite gender parity remains a low priority for half of senior executive teams, with 40 percent describing it as “neither important nor unimportant” and 10 percent as “unimportant,” according to “Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox,” based on a global online survey with 327 executives in 55 markets across six regions.

“Despite a crowded pipeline of talented women eager to reach the c-level of organizations, progress on gender equality remains slow,” said Micho Spring, chair of the global corporate practice at Weber Shandwick. “The good news is we are now at a point reminiscent of past social movements that have unpredictably overcome periods of inertia and passive support. Companies should, therefore, look beyond the passivity, confusion and solution-a-day approaches. It is an imperative that they single out the most persuasive arguments for gender equity and identify approaches that yield demonstrable results for their firms.”

No single event is likely to incite a rush to gender equality at senior levels, according to the study. Instead, Weber Shandwick identified these six influences as likely to push gender parity in the c-suite.

Media. More than two-thirds of the executives surveyed (68 percent) have noticed an increase in public attention to the issue of gender parity in recent years. Nearly 60 percent of those said media and social coverage was the chief reason for this attention.

The war for talent. Four in 10 executives reported being actively involved in gender equality efforts at their organizations. The primary motivators for these advocates: to attract and retain talented women (46 percent) and to serve as role models for talented women (40 percent).

Emerging recognition of ROI. Nearly 40 percent of the advocates of gender equality believe diverse perspectives lead to better financial importance. More than one-third (35 percent) of these executives believe “women make good leaders.”

More women want these roles. Women’s career aspirations are a key factor pushing gender equality, according to the study. Three-fourths of the non-c-suite female executives surveyed said they were interested in pursuing c-suite positions, compared to 56 percent of their male peers. Significantly, interest in reaching the c-suite did not diminish among female executives with children, a finding that runs counter to the dominant media narrative that often attributes the c-suite gender gap to work/life balance concerns or reluctance to pursue top roles.

Millennials expect gender equality. While global executives on the whole predict that gender equality will be achieved by 2030, millennials have even higher expectations. More than eight in 10 millennials surveyed anticipate equal representation of men and women in the c-suite by 2030, compared to 74 percent of Gen Xers and 66 percent of Boomers. Millennials also place greater importance on gender equality. Three-fourths agreed that “gender equality at the c-suite level in my company is important,” compared to 44 percent of Gen Xers and 48 percent of Boomers.

Stakeholder pressure. Nearly half of global executives surveyed (44 percent) cite stakeholder pressure as the factor most likely to trigger a “tipping point” in regard to c-suite parity. Stakeholders may include board members, shareholders, vendors, partners, customers, clients or the talent base an organization needs in order to thrive.

“As has happened with the worldwide corporate responsibility movement, companies may find that diversity in the senior ranks becomes a prerequisite for doing business with those companies who abide by high diversity standards,” the report said.

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