Board gender diversity: encouraging female leaders

Board gender diversity: encouraging female leaders
Board gender diversity: encouraging female leaders

Diversity in the workplace is good for business. It’s a fact supported by plenty of research and statistics, including those found in a recent study by McKinsey & Company.

After examining data from a range of industries across the UK, Canada, Latin America and the US, its Why Diversity Matters report revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to see above-average financial returns.

The current situation

And yet, looking at the upper levels of the corporate world, it’s clear that gender diversity is still to become reality.
Take the Fortune 500 list from last year, for example, which showed women now hold only 4.2 per cent of CEO positions in America’s biggest companies. We know why we should be encouraging diversity, but knowing how to go about actually achieving it isn’t so easy.

Mandatory board quotas

Since the early 2000s, companies and countries have been using mandatory board quotas as a strategy for improving gender diversity in the workplace. On one hand, it’s proved to be a successful method.

Norway, one of the first to adopt such an approach, topped Catalyst’s 2015 global index for women in business with 35.5 per cent female representation on the boards of its biggest companies. But it’s also come under fire, with several countries and businesses refusing to adopt either voluntary or mandatory quotas. Those opposed to the idea argue that targets based on gender or ethnicity are coercive, discriminatory, and merely a quick fix for a complex problem.

Long-term tactics to promote diversity

In some respects, such fears are justified.To really make a long-term impact on gender diversity, the widespread and deeply embedded corporate culture that excludes minorities from the upper tiers of businesses must be challenged. It’s a multifaceted issue that requires a similarly complex response.

You can start by addressing unconscious bias in recruitment processes and teaching senior managers and executives to recognise discrimination in the workplace.

But a sustainable strategy for diversity must also include building and developing the next generation of leaders within your business.

Future leaders

Investing in your current and future talent pool is key. As well as attracting and retaining leaders, you need to implement a mentoring and education programme to unlock the potential of all employees.

Encourage and enable women to undertake distance learning courses in leadership and project management with reputable online educational institutions, or create your own in-house training programme to aid upwards mobility through the ranks.

Ultimately, corporate culture will only change if every business actively promotes gender diversity.

Make a public commitment and join the conversation – hold seminars, publish data, openly discussing your own company’s shortcomings and successes. You’ll soon find the financial and cultural benefits start to add up, leaving you with a stronger and more effective workforce.