The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 

06 Jun. 2019 | Comments (0)

Study after study has found that companies with gender diversity at the leadership level outperform their less inclusive peers. 

How can we capitalize on such findings? 

It starts with developing a leadership pipeline—one filled with talented, ambitious women at every stage of the journey. But our latest analysis reveals that the pipeline slows to a trickle the further along the ranks we go.

Research by The Conference Board and Korn Ferry gauged nearly 300 HR leaders to better understand the pivotal points at which women move ahead or fall behind. While the percentage of women tends to decrease as they climb the corporate ladder, we found that the single largest drop-off occurs at the transition from individual contributor to manager. This vital choke point winnows young women from the leadership pipeline at just the time they should be poised to elevate their careers. 

To be sure, the HR leaders we surveyed see significant progress but also believe we have a long way to go before reaching gender parity. Without a doubt, numerous companies and their forward-thinking executives have already taken steps in the right direction, but these actions have yet to fully achieve the desired effect: women who are “ready” candidates all along the pipeline. Moreover, it doesn’t help that, despite the many progressive attempts that organizations make, women often opt out of leadership positions because of the perceived impact that taking on such a role will have on their personal lives or the lack of senior women in leadership roles whom they can emulate. 

The good news is that research identifies ways in which some companies are finding success. We outline how CHROs and other senior HR leaders can play an important role in addressing the factors that lie within the direct control of companies.

Identify and Engage, Early and Openly
Organizations should assess women for leadership abilities early. Once they have identified potential future top talent, they can take steps to fast-track them, which can include exposing them to core business functions including operations and finance. These are two areas in which women are less likely than men to get organically exposed.

Strong mentors and sponsors can help by encouraging women to gain these and other critical experiences. Research shows women often require encouragement to initiate mentor relationships, whereas men tend to look for them proactively. This presents an opportunity for HR to serve as the matchmaker to help spark these relationships. 

More broadly, HR must hold their organizations’ leaders accountable for communicating perceived potential to promising women. All too often, women find out only after leaving that their organization had seen great potential in them.

The spice giant McCormick provides a terrific example: In 2016, it created its “Ignite” program to remedy under-representation of women leaders. The company tested women and then empowered managers to engage with them about their potential and how to maximize it. As a result, the company is now well on its way toward its 2025 goal of filling 50 percent of its leadership positions with women.

This op-ed was originally published by HR People + Strategy. Continue reading here.

  • About the Author:Rebecca L. Ray, PhD

    Rebecca L. Ray, PhD

    Rebecca Ray is the Executive Vice President, Human Capital, at The Conference Board. She leads the US Human Capital Center and is responsible for member engagement and retention as well as the overall…

    Full Bio | More from Rebecca L. Ray, PhD

  • About the Author:Beatrice Grech-Cumbo

    Beatrice  Grech-Cumbo

    Beatrice Grech-Cumbo is a senior client partner at Korn Ferry and leads the firm’s Advancing Women Worldwide practice. She is responsible for infusing research, including the Korn Ferry/Rockefel…

    Full Bio | More from Beatrice Grech-Cumbo


0 Comment Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.

    Support Our Work

    Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.