Global report says stubborn gender gap hurts business
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Posted by: Barbara Francella
The percentage of women in senior management teams globally rose just 1 percent in 2016 — from 24 percent to 25 percent, according to a new report by Grant Thornton International. The senior-management gender gap has shrunk just 6 percent in the past 13 years.
Meanwhile, the number of organizations with no female leaders inched up to 34 percent; it was 33 in 2105.from 33 percent in 2016 to 34 percent.
“This is a serious weakness,” said Francesca Lagerberg, global leader for tax services at Grant Thornton. “The reasons for this lack of diversity are many and varied, and they depend on the culture of individual businesses and the broader culture in which they sit. Worryingly, this year we have detected a sense that the issue of gender diversity is beginning to lose its bite.
“We simply cannot let this happen while progress is still marginal. Companies today need to be more productive, more innovative and in many ways more open if they are to thrive.”
Diversity is key to business success, according to the report. “With a mixture of men and women at the helm, companies are better prepared for all eventualities.”
The report recommends these strategies for creating a more diverse workplace:
Speak up for diversity and embed change throughout the organization, not just at the top. “Many companies are striving for gender diversity at leadership level,” the report notes. “But there is a need to consider how individuals further down view the issue. Leaders should not assume everyone understands or supports the argument.”
Encourage diverse leadership styles and role models. “The benefits of diversity will not surface if people’s differences aren’t allowed to actually come out in their job,” according to the report.
Invest in sponsorship program, not just mentoring. “The emotional support offered through mentoring is extremely valuable,” the report notes. “But recognition and encouragement from the right sponsor can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s career advancement.”
The report also calls out the relationship between gender diversity and risk. “Risk is the process of identifying, evaluating and managing uncertainty. It is vital for business success. Men and women perceive and respond to risk in different ways, contrasting in how they balance speed and decisiveness with careful consideration. Brought together, these strengths facilitate effective risk strategies for the sustainable growth of dynamic businesses.”
Among the report’s recommendations for nurturing effective risk strategies are:
Build mixed gender teams for effective risk management. “Companies that fail to bring women to the table will jeopardize their long-term growth,” according to the report.
Provide women with leadership opportunities that make them familiar with risk. “Companies should not rely solely on technical training, but provide young women with on-the-job experiences too, exposing them to the process of risk management and —where appropriate — involving them,” the report says.
Create a culture where taking calculated risks is part of successful business strategy, not something to avoid. “Individuals and teams need to feel supported, not penalized, when making decisions about the risks their companies encounter,” the report notes. “Creating cultures that clearly communicate the organization’s risk appetite and avoid blaming people can help bridge the confidence gap.”
Use neutral terms like “risk aware,” rather than “risk averse” or “risk loving” to avoid gender stereotyping. “Accepting the prevailing narrative that women are risk averse and men are risk loving inaccurately characterizes both sexes,” the report says.
Include opportunities in the company risk register. “Risk and opportunity are different sides of the same coin,” the report notes. “Avoid referring to risk exclusively as a threat and include opportunities for growth.”
Engage in a more collaborative risk management process. “When women hold senior leadership positions they are most often in finance and HR. Companies should facilitate the involvement of these positions in discussions around risk as business opportunity and threat.”
Download full report