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Women in Leadership

By Sindhu Bhattarai

We’ve seen significant strides in overall workplace gender equality. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is less significant progress in diversifying senior-level positions in recent years. There is a disconnect between giving women a seat at the table and allowing them to actually lead the discussion. While women worldwide are closing the gap in critical areas such as health and education, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce and in politics. Given current rates of change, this year’s Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity. According to a Grant Thornton study, the United States, India, and England are losing out on $665 billion in profits by not having women executives.

Research from LinkedIn shows that women represent fewer than 50% of leaders in every industry analysed – and in some fields, such as energy and mining or manufacturing, the representation of women is far lower, with women holding fewer than 20% of leadership positions. The rate of progress for women has been slow, too: over the past decade, the proportion of female leaders has increased by an average of just over 2% across the 12 industries studied. LinkedIn’s data points to only three industries where female corporate leadership exceeds 40%: healthcare, education, and the non-profit sector. These industries have relied on female workers for generations, and have perhaps provided women with more time and opportunities to work their way into senior roles. Unfortunately, as the Global Gender Gap Report also notes, historically female-dominated industries tend to pay less than those with higher male representation.

Numerous studies suggest that, consciously or not, individuals are more likely to hire people like them. Female candidates may also self-select into companies with higher proportions of leaders who are women, attracted to companies perceived as having more opportunities for advancement or mentorship. Additionally, prior World Economic Forum research indicates that female CEOs actually pay their high-earning women more than male CEOs do, which may create a financial incentive for women to join such companies.

Increasing the proportions of women leaders – both through improved hiring rates for leadership positions, as well as building strong internal pipelines for promotion – could be the start, eventually leading to more equity of economic opportunity for women globally. If a candidate is a woman, take that under consideration. It is not unfair to award “merit points” to an applicant who comes from a different background and perhaps can offer a new perspective. A person of a cultural or educational upbringing that’s notably different from that of your typical candidates may have something unique to bring to the table. At the very least, recognize that women and minorities often are overlooked, and do your part to more carefully evaluate their potential.

While today’s Global Gender Gap Report demonstrates the progress that has been made over the past decade, it is clear that we still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to economic participation. Encouraging more female leadership is one of the efforts for increasing gender equality in the workforce.

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