Despite the proven benefits of gender diversity, there is a conspicuous deficit of women in C-suite roles compared to their male counterparts. Recent data from Korn Ferry indicates that women occupy only 25 percent of C-suite roles, and a meager 6 percent of CEO roles.
Getting more women in leadership roles is an uphill battle. It means rewriting the status quo, and it takes proactive, dedicated effort. The good news? The data overwhelmingly suggests that, from a healthier balance sheet to a more values-forward brand presence, those efforts will be rewarded.
A study of more than 13,000 organizations in 70 countries found that a majority of companies that tracked gender diversity saw profit increases of 5 to 20 percent. Those organizations also found it easier to attract talent, and reported improvements in creativity, innovation, and openness. Other studies have identified a range of other benefits that women in leadership positions bring, including heightened social responsibility and more fulfilling customer experiences.
And to more deeply understand the benefits of gender diversity, Harvard Business Review studied the phenomenon. From greater openness to change to emphasis on R&D, the study made one fundamental conclusion: Installing more women in leadership positions changes how organizations think.
Demographic diversity equals thought diversity, which makes organizations nimbler, more flexible, and stronger. Starting on day one, and extending up through your highest peaks, here's how your organization can reap the benefits of women leaders.
1. Make gender diversity a day-one goal
At their founding, many organizations focus on core business outcomes to the exclusion of gender diversity. If they consider the latter at all, it becomes a long-term goal, one they can focus on once they have the luxury of financial solvency.
But day-one priorities often become the skeleton of an organization--very difficult to reconfigure down the road. Changing course amid growth is extremely difficult. If you include too few women in the beginning, it's going to be very challenging to recruit more women later.
Don't wait. Gender diversity is as essential as any other business mechanism, and should be emphasized from day one.
2. Set well-defined hiring goals (and stick to them)
Aspiring to "hire more women leaders" is a good place to start. But it's also a vague objective, and without specific success metrics, may go unfulfilled.
It's not clear who first said the phrase, "What gets measured gets done," but its message is a timeworn fact. Once your organization agrees that gender diversity is a strategic priority, get specific about how you plan to measure it.
Let's say your leadership team will ultimately contain 10 people. Of the eight you currently have, only one is a woman, and you'd like to hire two more. Fulfilling this objective means aligning with your recruitment team to populate your hiring pipeline with women. If only one out of five finalists is a woman, there's only a 20 percent chance that she'll get hired, on average. But if you set benchmarks that require more women in your pipeline, it raises the odds that more finalists will be women, and that you'll fulfill your gender diversity goals.
Envisioning vague objectives won't make a dent in ending gender disparity. Holding yourself accountable to specific metrics will.
3. Showcase women leaders within your organization
People naturally picture leaders as male. Even children, when asked to draw "an effective leader," overwhelmingly drew pictures of men.
How can you update this paradigm? By putting a spotlight on women who lead.
All leaders, men and women, have a duty to take advantage of their platforms. Publish articles through social media (or Inc.) that highlight women's stories. Spotlight powerful women in shareholder letters, corporate events, and whatever other public forum you have.
Across your organization's lifecycle, all-star employees will naturally rise through the ranks to assume spots on your leadership team. If young, aspiring women see leaders who look like them, they will more passionately pursue your company's objectives, and believe that they're destined for leadership positions.
4. Reach out through mentorship and activist organizations
Raising the ratio of women to men in leadership roles means cultivating a network of ambitious women, both within and beyond your organization.
For women already in leadership roles, seek out mentorship opportunities with young, aspiring women professionals. Perhaps create groups of promising young women, which could someday act as hiring pools for your organization's recruitment team.
Also, consider joining activist organizations that seek to further gender equity in the workplace. For executives, I can personally recommend DealmakeHers, which features the stories of the most influential women executives in the retail and consumer space.
Of course, diversity in the workplace extends beyond gender. The approaches outlined in this article can and should be applied to any and all underrepresented groups.
Demographic diversity means diversity of thought--gaining access to solutions that come from more than one monolithic paradigm. I'm encouraged that, every year, women occupy slightly more leadership roles. But we have a long way to go.