Successful Organizations Shed New Light On a Chronic Problem: How to Get and Keep Women in Your Leadership Pipeline

Tammy Heermann

When I started my work on increasing female leadership representation over a decade ago, organizations were optimistic. Organizations earnestly felt that they were making the right investments, and that those investments would pay off in tackling a chronic issue. Well-intentioned initiatives started gaining popularity such as networking groups, training programs for women, or goals set by new diversity and inclusion leads.

But despite all this investment, and perhaps because of it, over the last year I’ve seen this optimism whither. You see, in over a decade, the numbers haven’t really changed at all. A report from Grant Thornton, a firm that has been publishing statistics on female leadership representation for 13 years, reported that the percentage of women in senior management teams has risen just one percent in the last year from 24 to 25%. In fact, there has only been a mere 6% shift overall in the 13 years since their research began. Unfortunately, at the same time, the number of organizations with no female participation at a senior level has risen from 33% to 34% in 2016 to 2017.

Despite all the investment, the numbers are going the wrong way. But should we really be so surprised? Have organizations been investing in the kinds of things that will shift such a systemic and chronic challenge?

I would argue no, for the most part, they haven’t. Most organizations look for a silver bullet to make meaningful change in the number of women represented at various leadership levels. What mentoring program can we invest in or what partnership can we broker? These one-off initiatives are important, but nowhere near sufficient.

We at LHH partnered with HR People & Strategy to shed new light on the female leadership pipeline challenge. We sought to find out what really is working and this week we launched a new report on our findings.

We knew that organizations were frustrated because they believed in the importance of addressing this challenge, yet were disappointed in the lack or speed of progress. Our report outlines what the organizations that identified as making real progress were doing differently. Inside you will find:

  • The daily behaviors of the people managers who are known champions of female talent;
  • The aspects of culture that shaped gender inclusivity;
  • The formal organizational practices that help support the advancement of women; and
  • The behaviors and helpful beliefs displayed by women who advance.

We have also provided an audit that includes a series of questions at several points in the report so that you can reflect on your own organization’s strengths and areas for future focus.

One of the most important findings in the survey was the role people leaders play and how their daily actions help or hinder female advancement. Organizations have been investing in women and in organizational practices for decades with little results. While these initiatives are still needed, the focus now needs to shift to skilling up and holding leaders accountable for attracting, developing and retaining diverse talent.

Download the full report, "Elevating Women in Leadership: A study exploring how organizations can crack the code to make real progress."

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