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Four steps can help your organization close the gender gap in leadership

March 19, 2019

Despite abundant evidence that gender equality in leadership is good for business, an overwhelming majority of organizations say advancing women into leadership roles is not a formal business priority, according to a new study from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV).

In fact, women hold only 18 percent of senior leadership positions among 2,300 organizations surveyed worldwide. In other words, men occupy approximately 82 percent of the most influential roles in today’s organizations. And, partly because 79 percent of surveyed organizations say promoting women is not a formal business priority, it could take a while – more than 50 years, respondents estimated – to close this gap.

But companies can make changes to help turn the tide much faster, and there’s good reason for them to do so. The study uncovered a small cohort of exceptional organizations (about 12 percent of respondents) that are more proactive in the push for gender equality in leadership – and they report that they are outperforming their competition in profitability, revenue growth, innovation, and employee satisfaction. We call these organizations “First Movers.” They acknowledge their responsibility to take action and say they believe gender inclusiveness will result in enhanced organizational success. More than 80 percent have elevated gender-equitable leadership to a strategic business imperative. From our analysis of the First Movers, we have identified four key practices that can help other organizations close the gender gap in leadership:

1. Provide career development planning specific to women’s needs.

First Movers recognize that women traditionally have been overlooked for leadership roles in part because of family commitments. Instead of using that as an excuse to deny them opportunities, they provide career development plans that support each woman’s unique requirements and professional aspirations.

2. Use the same metrics for men’s and women’s job performance evaluations and apply them equitably.

Companies need to be clear about what constitutes job performance with measurable results. They shouldn’t rely on subjective assertions about an employee’s contribution that could be influenced by an evaluator’s conscious or unconscious bias.

3. Provide men and women with equal career opportunities.

Companies need to make a concerted effort to identify women with high potential. It’s essential to recognize all qualified employees  for their potential and accomplishments—and give them equal chances to advance their careers.

4. Create a corporate culture that embraces women’s leadership styles.

This requires real action and accountability, and it starts at the top with senior leaders who are willing to include gender diversity as part of their strategic agenda. Executives across the organization should regularly and openly challenge gender-biased behaviors and language – and be held accountable for gender equality.

Read the study to learn more about strategies that can help your organization address traditional barriers to women’s advancement, accelerate gender equality in leadership, and create an inclusive corporate culture where all employees have equal opportunities to grow their careers.

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Meet the authors

Carolyn Heller Baird
Global Research Leader for Customer Experience and Design, IBM Institute for Business Value

Lynn Kesterson-Townes
Global Cloud & Quantum Leader, IBM Institute for Business Value, Global Business Services



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