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The Manager

Bringing more women to the head table Add to ...

Getting more women into top corporate positions has been an issue for many years, and progress is still slow. Here is some advice about how companies can address the situation, from leadership development expert Dan McCarthy, on his Great Leadership blog:

Train leaders about gender balance

Corporate leaders need to understand the value of gender balance, and to view it as not just another compliance requirement to satisfy pesky interest groups, Mr. McCarthy says. Help your senior managers to understand the business case for gender balance and practices that may be creating barriers, including their own biases and behaviours. “Show them the research, engage them, and provide assessments, strategies and tools,” he counsels.

Establish metrics and goals

Too often, companies have simply issued “end result” goals such as the percentage of female executives. But those are lagging indicators, which only tell you how you have fared. He prefers “activity metrics,” which can indicate how those end results will look in the future. Such measurements might include number of female candidates for key positions in succession plans and the viability of those candidates as successors.

Link it to executive variable pay

About 10 per cent of variable executive pay should be based on this gender initiative, he argues. This is enough to drive behaviour without overshadowing other key business metrics.

Get every unit involved

At the start of the initiative there may not be many women in your company’s succession plans. So dig deeper by asking each business unit to identify its top 10 women. If the unit doesn’t have enough women, or they are too weak, you may have to continue digging, even checking entry-level recruits, to get a handle on how to improve.

Allocate places for women

Insist that a certain percentage of slots in the company’s executive development program will be filled by women. “Yes, this may sound exactly like a quota – and it is – but it’s the only way you’ll ever begin to make any progress on improving overall representation,” Mr. McCarthy said. This may also help to change the corporate culture, as they work alongside other high-potential employees.

Provide mentors

It may be that some of your high-potential female employees aren’t interested in a leadership role. It’s important to engage them in discussions, with mentors offering a realistic portrait of what would lie ahead.

Make diversity a guiding rule

Follow the lead of the National Football League: Since 2003, the NFL has made it a rule that at least one diverse candidate is interviewed for every senior executive opening. For your company, make sure at least one woman – whether internal or external – is interviewed for senior positions. This casts a wider net for candidates and can identify barriers that might be getting in the way of attracting and hiring the right talent.

Reward and recognize

To change behaviours, you need to reward and recognize your company’s diversity champions. “An annual CEO’s award can be very motivational. Of course, public hangings are also effective, but I’d rather focus on more positive ways to change behaviours. Otherwise, your efforts can begin to feel like a witch hunt,” he says.

Support the newcomers

Help your rising stars when they take on new positions, so they will succeed and fulfill your expectations.

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