This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘Why Aren’t There More Women In Positions Of Power?‘During the past few months, several highly accomplished women have assumed the helm at the world’s leading corporations.
They of course include Virginia M. (Ginni) Rometty, who became the first-ever female CEO in IBM’s 100-year history; Meg Whitman’s appointment to president and CEO of HP; Denise Ramos, who was named president and CEO of ITT and most recently, Rosalind Brewer, who was named CEO of Sam’s Club.
Clearly, the growing ranks of women in leadership are influencing management thinking around the world. Virginia, Meg, Denise and Rosalind join powerful CEOs, such as Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ursula Burns of Xerox, Ellen J. Kullman of DuPont and Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, who challenge any remnants of doubt on the value that women bring to the leadership table.
These appointments are obviously a step in the right direction. They represent an important journey, as evidenced by the World Economic Forum’s sixth annual Global Gender Gap Report 2011, which revealed that while a large proportion of countries have made some progress in women’s health and education levels, much more must be accomplished for women worldwide to achieve economic and political parity.
“A world where women make up less than 20 per cent of the global decision-makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential,” said WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.
“Smaller gender gaps are directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness,” says Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program and co-author of the report. “With the world’s attention on job creation and economic growth, gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies.”
The Forum emphasised the need for the government and private sector to enforce policies that promote women’s economic and political roles, but many well-respected reports have been identifying these gaps for decades now. Similar inferences had been drawn by Catalyst in its 2004 study “The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity” and McKinsey in its 2008 report “Women Matter 2.”
As leaders, we have been nodding our heads wisely with each finding, but what else are we doing? While we are seeing positive signs of change (such as the recent ITT, IBM and HP appointments), there is still plenty of room for improvement.
In my frequent visits with customers around the globe, I am happy to report some signs of progress. Forward-looking organisations are becoming more aligned, culturally and emotionally, with female employees’ priorities.
They are starting to alter their expectations that all employees—regardless of gender—should be available anywhere, anytime, and are developing solutions to help women overcome their reticence to advocating for themselves. Above all, they are fundamentally altering unwritten rules of workplace engagement favouring men.
Likewise, I have witnessed several recent initiatives launched to leverage the untapped talent pool of women in business leadership and steer the organisation toward a more diversified leadership team. The momentum is rising from the bottom up, from grassroots to the management levels, to truly transform the workplace and foster the development and mentoring of women within the organisation.
A number of platforms—encompassing social networks, physical meetings and cross-industry collaboration—have evolved to connect, encourage and advance women through development programs, peer networking, gender diversity initiatives and policy.
These initiatives ensure that women become an integral part of leadership and help to shape the strategic vision within the organisation.
The road toward true gender equality is long and it is difficult. It takes commitment and perseverance on the part of the organisation and the individual.
To that end, what actions can companies take to change women’s roles in their workplaces? Before we mentally check off boxes about best practices, such as setting up onsite day care, instituting flexible work hours and so on, we should ask: Is that what women need to flourish in the workplace? Or can companies do things that are more important to enable women to succeed?
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