Choose to Challenge Your Pipeline of Future Female Leaders

International Women’s Day ought to prompt firms and organisations to assess their talent pool of future leaders. 

Gender diversity among senior leadership fosters diversity of thought, promotes wellbeing and drives innovation. It’s not only good for company culture, but supports business.

Research by Acritas shows that gender diverse teams in law firms achieve 10% higher client spend. Furthermore, organisations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to achieve above average financial returns. Knowing this, it would be remiss for organisations to ignore the gender breakdown of their workforces.

Fewer women climb to the top of the corporate ladder. They still only make up 4.4% of CEOs globally, and 16.9% of board seats worldwide, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Women in the Boardroom report. To break the cycle of placing mostly male successors into boardrooms and senior leadership levels, one strategy is to improve the gender diversity rates of your talent pipeline. In this article, I’ll tackle a few ways to get there.

Sponsor rising star women

In many parts of the world, working women tend to be underrepresented compared to men, typically taking up unpaid domestic labour such as parenting responsibilities and duties in the home. Looking at Australia specifically, ABS data states that women constitute 37.9% of all full-time employees and are almost twice as much represented in part-time roles. This means that organisations have to work incredibly hard to attract and retain women in the workplace.

“I’m a big advocate of sponsorship programs for women, because, when successful, they can lead to more women having a seat at the table.”

– Jackie Rhodes, Managing Director, Thomson Reuters – Asia and Emerging Markets

This is why the 2018 launch of Women in leadership: Lessons from Australian companies leading the way by the Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency really lit a fire. It reveals that moving from key management positions to CEO level has the highest drop off rate in women’s representation at 59%.

Having C-level, C-suite executives and senior leadership actively sponsor women is in my mind one of the best things you can do to really shift the dial at your organisation. At Thomson Reuters we offer sponsorship programs and advocacy for talented women. It’s heartening to hear more organisations launching similar programs to secure their future decision-makers.

Tackle barriers to career progression

The Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Report (2020) shed light on the key barriers to progression in the legal profession. The most stubborn barriers to progression are the role of women at home and gender bias. As the report stated: “In the Asia Pacific region in particular and also significantly in Europe, advancement to law firm leadership is regarded as incompatible with women’s tendency to shoulder a larger share of domestic responsibilities”.

Barrier 1: Role of women at home

If the barriers such as the role of women at home is persisting in our region, then we need to do more than sponsoring and mentoring to ensure women aren’t getting overlooked. One tactic I encourage managers to do is go deeper with their talent reviews to identify how the organisation can support their growth.

While every woman’s version of success in the workplace will be different, managers need to ensure they understand the ambitions of their direct reports. This could support whether they have a desire to apply for the next promotion or take on a new project.

Barrier 2: Gender bias

Gender bias is rampant in the day-to-day, so it makes sense that it continues to impinge on female employees who are equally deserving of achieving career progression. Research conducted by Bain & Co and LinkedIn in 2017, found that midcareer women are 41% more likely to believe they do not have the same opportunities for advancement as their peers.

The practice of conscious hiring and promotion can also help to combat unconscious assumptions we can make about women and men which ultimately hurts talent acquisition and retention.

This International Women’s Day, I urge senior leaders to assess their talent pipeline. Each of us play a role in shaping the future for women in the workplace, and it’s in our interest to do it right.

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