by Anisha Mehta, 2012 EBG Summer Associate
“As I recently reported, some folks are getting tired of those gender diversity initiatives, questioning whether they are time-suckers or irrelevant.” —Vivia Chen, Careerist
Women’s initiatives have become commonplace as companies have implemented programs designed to attract and retain female talent, create pathways to leadership, and increase employee satisfaction. Despite the prevalence of such initiatives, many people question their utility. Are they creating the opportunities that they were intended to? Are they elevating more women into management, or merely adding time-consuming tasks to the plates of already stretched-too-thin corporate women? In other words, are women’s initiatives achieving their laudable goals?
Recent studies by McKinsey & Company sought to answer these questions and unfortunately found that gender diversity initiatives generally are not effective. Of 235 companies surveyed, 90% had gender diversity programs in place, and over 60% had at least 20 different programs. Companies provided their employees with mentoring programs, networking events, flexible scheduling, and much more. However, only 8% of the large companies surveyed had women accounting for more than 25% of the top jobs, with none of the financial services, media and energy companies having a woman CEO. In 66% of the companies surveyed with over 10 gender diversity measures in place, women still only accounted for 13% of top positions.
The statistics reveal much room for improvement. Therefore, it is important to examine how and why programs may have failed, and what steps may be taken to further the goals of the women’s initiatives.
The issue does not appear to be with the number of initiatives in place, but rather the quality. When employees were asked their views on the gender diversity initiatives in place at their companies--how broadly were they applied across the organization, how carefully were they monitored, and how well were they communicated--the results were disappointing. Of 1,768 volunteers (middle management level or lower) surveyed, less than half thought that their CEO was making good on his/her commitment to gender diversity. Only 16% of respondents stated that their company’s mentoring programs were well-implemented in terms of how well it was communicated and how broadly it was applied. Similarly, only 13% of respondents stated that leadership skill building programs were well-implemented at their companies, though a 2010 McKinsey study found that women’s skill building programs are one of the most effective measures to promote gender diversity.
The importance of gender diversity to corporations has been well-documented. Studies have found that companies with more women in executive positions and committees perform better financially than those without any women. It’s time to focus on not only having gender diversity initiatives in place, but also ensuring that those initiatives are well-communicated, easily accessible, and broadly applied. McKinsey identified four area of focus for corporations to increase results from their initiatives.
- Senior Management Commitment
- Leaders must lead by example and show that gender diversity is not optional, but necessary.
- Knowing the Data
- Companies should know the facts about women in their organizations. When are women dropping out of the career pipeline? How many women leave at each stage?
- Change Mindsets
- Old mindsets need to be reset. Companies should emphasize that women are able to work long hours, take on tough assignments, travel for work, and take critical feedback well. They should ensure that no one in the organization believes that the top jobs somehow belong to men.
- Company Specific Initiatives
- Companies should use the data that they gather on women at their firm to create particular initiatives to best reach their targets.
Corporations with women’s initiatives should be commended for their efforts. To ensure that such initiatives are truly fulfilling the corporation’s commitment to gender diversity, it is necessary to critically examine which programs are effective and address areas in which the programs may not be producing the desired results. Women’s initiatives, if well-designed and implemented, will benefit the women within an organization as well as the companies that retain and promote women to leadership positions.