The leadership gender gap in the global workplace continues to persist according to a study by IBM, because organisations have yet to make advancing women a formal business priority. The study “Women, Leadership, and the Priority Paradox,” polled 2,300 executives and professionals and also includes guidance on how to drive change.
The global study, conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed an equal number of women and men from organisations worldwide across multiple industries to better understand why a large gender disparity in the leadership ranks persists and what can be done to drive progress toward gender equality. In addition to the qualitative survey, IBV conducted a series of one on one interviews with executives and professionals across six global regions.
The study revealed that within those organisations surveyed, only 18 per cent of senior leadership positions are held by women. This is due to three key factors:
· Organisations are not sold on the business value. 79 per cent of respondents indicated that they have not formally prioritised fostering gender equality in leadership within their organisations, even though ample evidence correlates gender equity with improved financial success and competitive advantage.
· Men underestimate the magnitude of gender bias in their workplaces. 65 per cent of male executives reported it is just as likely they would have been promoted to a top leadership role even if they had been women, despite the low numbers of women that currently hold those roles.
· Few organisations display a sense of urgency or ownership about this issue. Organisations are over-relying on “good intentions” and applying a laissez-faire approach to diversity, rather than applying the disciplined focus on operational execution they apply to other aspects of organisational performance.
“The past year has heightened the world’s focus on diversity, and the business benefits of inclusive teams are now well-documented,” said Michelle Peluso, senior vice president of Digital Sales and chief marketing officer. “The opportunity now is to move from inclusion being interesting to being imperative – just like we treat other top business priorities.”
Despite these hurdles, there was a set of organisations — dubbed “First Movers” in the report — that stood out as being dedicated to achieving gender equality within their leadership ranks. Comprising 12 per cent of the total sample, these organisations share characteristics and values that foster a more inclusive environment and provide a roadmap of how to create progress for other organisations:
- They are serious about gender inclusion – All (100 per cent) have made advancing women into leadership roles a formal business priority. By comparison, only nine per cent of other organisations have the same focus.
- They are motivated by the promise of financial improvement – All (100 per cent) are sold on the idea that gender-inclusive organisations are more successful financially, whereas only 38 per cent of other organisations agree.
- They acknowledge and embrace their responsibility to take action – All (100 per cent) agree that businesses need to continue making changes to achieve gender equality in the workplace. While the majority of other organisations in our survey also agree, 29 per cent more First Movers are passionate about taking action than other organisations.
“What we have learned from First Movers is the importance of setting measurable goals and defining a systematic approach to inclusion across the organisation. This means everything from recruiting to rewarding, developing, retaining and promoting women. And, then, we must ourselves accountable to meet these goals,” said Peluso.