A compelling new study shows that top global companies in Asia, Europe and the US have advanced little beyond mere tokenism when it comes to placing women in leadership roles.
A UK-based global gender consulting firm, 20-first, published its fifth annual gender balance scorecard this month. In the US, the study found some optimistic conclusions: 60% of top corporations have at least two women on their executive committees, and eight corporations – including IBM, Pepsi Corporation and General Motors – have women CEOs. Overall, however, the results were less encouraging. Men hold 83% of the executive committee positions within top US companies, leaving 11% of women in staff roles and 6% in line roles.
In Europe’s top 100 companies, the situation for women was even less promising. Men hold 89% of executive committee jobs; women hold 6% of staff roles and 5% are in line roles. The gender balance was even worse in Asia, where men hold 96% of senior roles, leaving 3% of women in staff roles and 1% in line roles. In these three regions combined, women hold only 11% of the 3,000 executive committee spots in the 300 companies surveyed.
What’s going on?
Causes for Gender Imbalance
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, 20-first’s CEO, sees several obstacles impeding corporate gender balance. First, she says, society, women – and corporate leaders – have miss-framed and miss-analyzed the problem, categorizing it as a diversity dimension. Yet this is a setup-to-fail frame, because this categorization, she argues, is simply unrealistic. “Gender diversity is an oxymoron given only two genders exist,” she says. “Besides, if women are 60% of global work talent (ie the world’s college graduates) and make 80% of the purchasing decisions of consumer goods, then why is adding more women leaders adding diversity?”
Another problem, Cox points out, is that society has asked women – instead of corporate leaders – to fix the issue. She says that, for the past decade, corporate efforts have largely focused around initiatives aimed at women. Mentoring, coaching and women’s leadership conferences are spreading, despite the research showing their ineffectiveness at shifting the balance.
Many programs ask women to adopt more masculine styles in order to succeed. Cox says, however, that when these women move in a masculine direction, no one likes the result. These “adapted women” serve as anti-role models to the next generation of younger woman, Cox explains. “They say, ‘if that’s what it takes to make it in this company, I’m leaving.’ Then you have a retention problem.”
“Fixing women and turning them into men is not successful nor a sustainable strategy,” Cox says. “If companies want to balance, those in power must lead the change, reframe gender balance as a business not a women’s issue. That’s the only way to focus on the kernel of the issue: the current dominant majority and their mindsets.”
On the invitation of progressive CEOs, Cox’s company works with leadership teams to help them see the virtue in including the entire talent pool within their company, not just men. Accepting the status quo leaves too much at stake, she says. “Not advancing women into leadership roles is sad for the women talent, but also tragic for the company which faces an unfortunate loss of talent, creativity and innovation.
Article prepared by Klaus Cooper