Despite some progress in advancing women in the workplace, women continue to be underrepresented in key roles, especially at first-line manager and senior levels, according to nearly 300 human resource executives surveyed for “Effective Leadership Development Strategies at Pivotal Points for Women: Chief Human Resources Officers and Senior HR Leaders Speak,” a new study by Korn Ferry and The Conference Board.
Women hold only slightly more than one-fifth of senior vice president and C-suite level roles, according to the report.
While the majority of survey respondents (62 percent) believe the representation of women in leadership has improved during the past five years, they also believe (66 percent) that women are still inadequately represented at their own organizations.
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said the number of women at the vice president level at their organization is inadequate and a similar number, 65 percent, believe there is not enough female representation in the C-suite overall.
Fixing failing pipelines
“The obstacles a woman faces exist across the entire lifecycle — from hiring to promotion and throughout development,” said Beatrice Grech-Cumbo, Korn Ferry leader of Advancing Women Worldwide and senior client partner. “While organizations are focusing on increasing the representation of women in senior leadership, it is equally important to work to place women in first-line manager roles. This point in the pipeline significantly impacts the promotion pool of female talent.”
Half of respondents said there are not enough women in the pipeline to fill open leadership positions, and only 40 percent believe women are gaining the experiences necessary to help them advance.
Incremental actions will not be enough to close the gap, write the study’s authors, noting that leaders must disrupt the status quo, take a strong position and focus on programs that drive greater outcomes.
“HR and business executives need to take a step back to better understand and address the systemic reasons behind the gender imbalance,” added Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D., executive vice president of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “Reasons include pay inequity, hiring manager bias and accountability, a lack of sponsors and champions, as well as the lack of programmatic support for the integration of work and life.”
The report identifies key steps that are necessary to help women advance at all levels of an organization, including:
- Challenging women early in their careers
- Redesigning talent management systems to mitigate bias and disrupt historical practices
- Creating an intentionally inclusive climate
- Providing differentiated development opportunities and experiences
- Developing a sponsorship program aimed at women advancement opportunities
- Offering stretch assignments and personalized leadership experiences.