Are women really taking over the boardroom? With only an 8-point rise, from 6.2% in 1993 to today’s figure of 14.6%, in US board positions being occupied by women, it is a very slow coup. And over the past 20 years, the situation at top management levels hasn’t fared much better. Globally, there are fewer than 15% of women in corporate officer roles and only 5% of which are CEOs, with the exception of some Scandinavian countries.
There are companies trying to address this gender issue with heavy investment in initiatives such as unconscious bias training, women’s networks, mentoring and recruitment. However, many of these schemes don’t pay off. For example, decades of research shows that you cannot train bias out of people and it doesn't result in on-the-job behaviour change. There are, of course, other valid reasons to do such training - like showing senior management concern for the issue.
But if you want a real return on your investment, it's time to start capitalising in practices that get results. Want to make a difference in your company? Start with these 3 proven actions:
Fix your reward decisions. Research across companies shows that women and men have similar performance levels, with men getting very slightly higher performance ratings than women. However, the gender difference in salaries, bonus and promotions are 14 times larger than the difference in performance ratings. This shows that men make more money for virtually the same level of performance. Other research also shows that women line leaders are held to a higher performance standard than men before they are promoted.
You can start by accepting that decisions are often inherently biased and training is not going to help. Then, ensure you have great processes and analyses to guarantee parity of pay levels, salary increases, bonuses and promotion decisions. If your Diversity Council is not regularly looking at equality of rewards, that is a problem!
Implement talent moves, not cliff jumping. Research shows that companies with declining performance are more likely to promote a woman to the top CEO role than a man (think Yahoo and HP). However, these glass cliff jobs put women in a perilous position with statistics showing that 38% of women CEOs are more likely to be fired or forced out of the job compared to just 27% of male CEOs. The reverse is also true with men more likely to get appointed when performance is going well.
This can be corrected by turning your Diversity Committee into a Talent Council. The group should focus on finding, moving and tracking female talent. They need to put women into roles that develop and stretch, not imperil. And, if they put them in tough roles, they need to provide the support, coaching and air cover to ensure success.
Develop women leaders to succeed. One of the top predictors of long term career success (in terms of pay and promotions) is political knowledge and skill. Men and women succeed when they are sincere, socially aware, have strong influence skills and networking ability. These skills help leaders align and influence others to their agenda. Unfortunately, many companies send female directors on courses that don’t address these and other skills that help advance their careers.
Look to correct this by assessing, coaching and training in areas that will help women (and men!) impact their organisations. Challenge them with on-the-job projects that require them to practice these skills. And, more importantly, ask a senior leader to sponsor the project. You will get much better mentoring and sponsorship through a project assignment than through a formal mentoring programme.
Women perform just as well as men. Unfortunately, they aren’t always rewarded or promoted as well as men. And many popular diversity practices don’t have impact and are not going to reverse this trend. If you want to accelerate change in this area and get to parity, get focused! Take time to understand the research and proven practices of getting women to the top.