Why Is Gender Equity Still Lagging In Leadership?

The facts are in! Businesses need diverse talent to optimize performance. Women’s leadership has gained tremendous strides in just the last year alone, as nationwide movements, such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, have generated new momentum for women to lead on important issues. The 2018 mid-term elections yielded a record number of women serving in Congress and a record number of women are now running for president. Even the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team felt empowered to speak up for equal pay at this year’s World Cup Soccer tournament.

In business to date, there has been talk but it hasn’t translated to action that drives change. It’s true that many companies and organizations value diversity and inclusion now more than ever and they are starting to take the next steps needed to actually drive the change we have all been talking about. But business still has a long way to go. Although women comprise more than 40% of the global workforce, they hold fewer than 25% of leadership roles. According to a McKinsey study, at the rate we are going, it will take well over 100 years for women to gain parity in leadership roles. We need to remove barriers and evolve corporate cultures to provide leadership access for women and to foster a more open, inclusive, and empathetic work culture.

Numerous research reports indicate that having more women in leadership roles can lead to increased global GDP. So, if we all agree on the need and rationale, why is there not more change in the numbers of women in leadership roles?

We now have examples of success strategies and we have peeled back the layers to understand what needs to be done to create environments that embrace inclusion and bring each individual’s genius to the business, driving superior results. At BPI group, we see our clients implementing new types of programs that identify and develop the unique needs of women leaders. We see more and more unconscious bias programming that addresses several less visible barriers that drive unwanted results, such as the differences in negotiating styles, career mapping, and getting heard in meetings. We recently helped develop a ‘voice’ program that addresses some of the gender-related communications issues that typically occur in the workplace.

The Chicago Network (TCN), an organization of 500+ of Chicago’s most influential women leaders, recently launched The Chicago Network (TCN) Equity Principles Campaign, which aims to achieve 50% representation of women at all levels throughout Chicago organizations by 2030. More than 85 organizations have signed a pledge to achieve this goal, including prominent companies such as Aon, Discover, United Airlines, and Kellogg Company. By signing the Equity Principles pledge, businesses commit to action steps to remove bias in the workplace, make the paths to success visible, and support the development of employees.

TCN will also create a repository and share best practices and tools that organizations find successful. The hope is that the repository will allow organizations to gather insights from others and apply them to their own organizations. I encourage all organizations to pledge their commitment to gender equity and to share what’s working in their organizations with others. We need specific actions to drive the change that will increase the number of women in leadership roles more broadly. The time for that change is now.

Read more: Diversity in the Boardroom: Do You Really Need Another CEO?

Susan Gallagher
Susan Gallagher is the President & CEO of BPI group U.S., leading growth for the global leadership, talent, and transition consultancy. Susan brings more than 35 years of experience in the professional services industry, with a strong track record building high-performing teams and growing organizations.