A quick internet search for “women in leadership positions” will return many hits referring to the low percentage of women in management roles, the importance of increasing this proportion and the hardships that they face.
While discussing the challenges and benefits of gender equality is crucial for increasing awareness, we would like to use this article to highlight successes in the push toward gender equality. Shedding light on the progress made towards this not only encourages future generations of women but also recognises the merit of each successful woman.
All too often, women face bottlenecks during their careers. A survey conducted by LinkedIn across its users in the USA found that the percentage of female leaders out of total female employees within the same sector was relatively constant from 2001 to 2007. From 2008, though, we began to see a subtle yet progressive increase of that percentage. This may well be due to a more diversified renewal of leadership following the high number of dismissals during the 2008 financial and economic crises, as well as the emergence of several organisations and associations focused on gender equality, such as the organisation UN Women which was founded in 2010.
Regardless of the causes, companies with greater diversity in their leadership positions have achieved improved financial performance. Offering fair and meritocratic conditions to attract and promote women and men ensures that companies benefit from those advantages when competing for talents and simultaneously helps to improve the quality of their decision-making. The growing participation of women in leadership positions proves that female empowerment is not only an aspiration but also a reality.
How are women gaining strength?
The characteristics typically associated with the female gender have recently gained value in the job market. This is true regardless of gender: men can have ‘feminine’ characteristics and vice-versa. Interpersonal relations, resilience and sensitivity, often seen as examples of those ‘feminine’ qualities, are increasingly valued. This is attributed primarily to the changing values of new generations in society, who seek a purpose, increasing the exchange between people, and demonstrate increased sensitivity to more human topics, such as diversity.
Both female and male leaders who can adapt their attitudes to this trend achieve greater success in terms of inspiring and engaging young teams, driving more consistent results for their organisations. It is an indisputable fact that female professionals are becoming more valued and recognised by their peers and superiors, promoting their professional advancement.
Furthermore, actions to raise awareness of the importance of empowering women affect not only society’s overall perception of women but also women’s own perceptions of themselves.
How do we get there?
Visagio has found that there are five steps for successfully developing gender equality within a company.
1. Sponsorship by top leadership – everyone for the cause
Top leadership must be responsible for promoting and guiding gender equality across their company. It is only with the genuine interest of both female and male leaders that it will be incorporated into the company’s culture and processes. Having a formal agenda item or a committee that ensures senior leadership is discussing the topic and monitoring indicators will guarantee better results.
2. Monitoring indicators – what is not measured is not controlled
Organisations need to regularly measure indicators associated with gender equality to identify where there are issues and to track the improvements made. Once measured, these metrics can then be used to develop actions to increase understanding, close gender gaps and resolve wider problems. Examples of these metrics include:
- Gender ratio throughout hiring phases
- Gender ratio by employee level
- Gender ratio on the Board
- Average promotion time by gender
- Differences between performance assessment results for women vs. men
- Differences in the assessment average per criteria for women vs. men
3. Attracting and developing women – together, we are stronger
A subset of the necessary actions must be those aimed at attracting, retaining and developing women. As a strategy for attracting women, companies must position themselves as a brand that promotes equality. For instance, this can be achieved by:
- Conducting recruitment and selection seminars targeting female recruits
- Using videos to provide gender equality awareness, such as to disseminate policies, through company intranet sites
- Hosting forums to debate gender equality topics
- Implementing mentoring programs to encourage women to seize opportunities while also engaging the organisation as a whole toward this cause.
By having more women progressing their careers and taking up leadership positions, we create role models that inspire other women to pursue the same course.
4. Combating unconscious biases – recognising our role
The pathway towards developing a more inclusive and diverse work environment requires us to question our own prejudices when we make decisions. It is important to review recruitment and assessment policies as well as implement training about unconscious bias so that we can challenge stereotypes, basing deliberations on meritocratic criteria.
5. Flexible environment – adapting to new realities
Companies must adopt more flexible work policies so that their employees – both men and women – can balance their professional and personal obligations. The part-time and home-office work models are examples of practices that can be adopted, as well as instituting flexible working hours that encourage individuals to manage their commitments accordingly.
Actions to promote the stronger role of women in the workplace are highly associated with the inclusion of gender equality agendas in companies and the implementation of a true culture of meritocracy. The results that a company obtains by developing female leaders extend far beyond gender equality indicators: developing those leaders fosters a plurality of thinking in decision making and inspires the entire team through a real demonstration that everyone has the same opportunities.
About the authors
Ana Paula Langsch is a partner from Visagio with experience in organisational restructuring projects, management model implementation, processes engineering and strategic planning. She has developed projects in companies in the energy, mining, oil & gas, education, retail, health and construction industries. She is one of the leaders of the Gender Equity Committee at Visagio.
Giovanna Nogueira is a partner from Visagio, specialised in management model projects, process engineering, organisational restructuring and shared services centre implementation in companies in the mining, oil & gas, financial, manufacturing, mobility, and paper and telecoms industries. She is one of the leaders of the Gender Equity Committee at Visagio.
Marcela Pinto is a partner from Visagio with experience in supply chain management projects, development of decision support systems, management models and shared services centre implementation in companies in the mining, financial, manufacturing and oil & gas industries. She is one of the leaders of the Gender Equity Committee at Visagio.
Monique Mattos Vimercati is a Managing Partner at Visagio Australia. Her areas of expertise are project and change management, and the majority of projects she supported are related to process improvements and transformation, including the development and implementation of automation tools and systems, in the mining and oil & gas sectors. As a champion of the Think WIDE (Wellbeing, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity) initiative, she is passionate about developing people and advocates for the inclusion of women in workplaces. Monique was also responsible for developing the She Codes Flash Data program with She Codes Australia as an opportunity to help bridge the gap of women in the workforce, especially in STEM-related areas.