Take ‘Authentic Actions’ to Advance More Women Leaders

By Claude Werder, Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

Diversity and inclusion are gaining traction in most organizations as a business driver. Many companies — as illustrated in Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence Awards Program— are making significant strides in initiatives to embrace differences and build truly inclusive organizations.

But when it comes to gender equity in senior leadership — both at the corporate level and in technology — little progress is being made, our new Women in Leadership study shows. That’s why Brandon Hall Group will again host the Women in Leadership Summit on May 1-2 in Florida, offer a Women in Leadership Network and just launched the Advancing Women in Technology Leadership Toolkit with partner Blue Circle Leadership.

Businesses need all the help they can get, especially in advancing women to top leadership positions. Almost half of organizations have C-Suites in which less than 10% of executives are women. That includes 12% of organizations that have ZERO women among their top execs.

Our new research, which COO Rachel Cooke and I preview in a webinar on Feb. 19, shows that if you want to make progress in advancing women leaders, start with training to raise awareness of unconscious bias, which is rated the behavior most responsible for lack of gender equity. Less than half of organizations offer training on unconscious bias. But it has a significant impact on an organization’s mindset toward gender equity in leadership.

For example, organizations that offer this training are two to four times more likely to have targeted programs for women leaders. This includes mentorship and executive sponsorship of current woman leaders and high-potential women. However, the number of companies doing the programs is still very modest — just one in five organizations.

Addressing unconscious bias begins to change mindsets and behaviors. But it does not equate to enterprise-wide progress — at least not yet. Companies that focus on unconscious bias are 64% more likely to have a woman CEO but even then, only 18% of organizations have one.

True progress requires what we call authentic actions. This means taking strategic steps to improve gender equity in leadership that are in sync with the values of diversity and inclusion. For example:

  • 41% of organizations with a high percentage (40%+) of female C-Suite execs use a diverse recruiter team.
  • 59% of these companies use a candidate interview process that reflects the diversity and inclusion the organization strives for.

Note that, overall, only 11% of organizations have 40%+ women in the C-Suite. Companies that take authentic actions are three to almost six times more likely to have a high percentage of women in the C-Suite. Other strategies include:

  • Use of technology to reduce unconscious bias in hiring.
  • Job descriptions/position descriptions edited to remove unconscious bias.
  • EVP messaging based on values and sentiment of a diverse workforce.
  • Recruiting from associations, groups, educational institutions, etc., associated with underserved talent communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the research, our Women in Leadership network or the Advancing Women in Technology toolkit, click here.

Join us for the Women in Leadership Summit in May. Learn more about the event and register here.

Claude Werder is Brandon Hall Group’s Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst. He focuses on Leadership Development and Talent Management. Brandon Hall Group is a leading research and analyst firm with Practices in Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management/Core HR.

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