Paradox along the Road to C-Suite Gender Equality By 2030

November 5, 20157:09 am1352 views

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of global senior executives believe that by 2030 women will occupy the top ranks of most large global companies in numbers equal to that of men. However, most global C-Level executives (56 percent) report that their organisations have not adopted formal goals that might turn this expectation into a reality and just four in 10 (39 percent) identify gender diversity in senior management as a high business priority, ranking seventh among 10 priorities.

In the absence of such proactive steps, women appear to be developing “gender pipeline fatigue” and have come to believe that only through compulsory measures such as governmental mandates on equal pay will parity result any time soon. These research findings were released by leading global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick.

This ground breaking study titled “Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030,” is sponsored by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research. The study was conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2015.

The research findings are based on an online survey of 327 senior executives across 55 countries in North America, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, Africa), APAC (Asia Pacific) and Latin America. The findings reveal significant push factors driving momentum for women advancement alongside some troubling pull factors that are impeding its ascent. Additionally, the approaches of companies that are making gender equality a priority are examined to serve as models for others less proactive.

“Several factors are simultaneously pushing gender equality forward and pulling it back. Companies need to prepare now to accept women into their senior ranks and take action to support their view of the future,” says Tyler Kim, Weber Shandwick’s head of corporate and crisis, Asia Pacific. “This global survey of decision-makers gives rise to a palpable sense of urgency for action now if we are to achieve gender parity at the upper rungs of management within this century.”

The Push Forces: Ready or Not, Here We Come

Six powerful and escalating forces are likely to accelerate the movement toward gender equality. The confluence of these push forces is likely to overwhelm the pull forces holding gender equality back and corporations must not find themselves left in the lurch.

“The good news is that we are now at a point reminiscent of past social movements where periods of inertia and passive support are abruptly overcome and goals suddenly become within reach,” says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick.

“Our research reveals that pressure is building toward gender equality progress. Wise corporate leadership should heed the unmistakable signs. A business-as-usual approach that leaves companies without a pool of women in senior positions will have severely negative reputational consequences.”

The push forces that we have identified are backed by these findings:

  • More than two-thirds of executives (68 percent) have noticed increasing media coverage, including social media, drawing public attention to the issue of gender equality. Perceptions match reality: there has been more than a threefold increase in articles worldwide about female CEOs since 2010.
  • “Improving our ability to attract and retain talented women” is the prime reason cited for involvement in corporate gender equality initiatives.
  • Among executives involved in gender equality efforts, 38 percent acknowledge that diverse gender perspectives lead to better financial performance.
  • Executives identify the influence of stakeholders as being the top factor that inevitably pressures them to demonstrate gender equality in the senior ranks.
  • Non-C-Level women are significantly more likely than their male peers to aspire to a C-level position (76 percent vs. 56 percent, respectively).
  • Three-quarters of Millennials (76 percent) say that having gender equality in the C-Suite is important to them, a marked increase over Gen Xers (44 percent) and Boomers (48 percent).

Some Hope Ahead: Gender-Forward Pioneers (GFPs)

Although only three in 10 global executives report that their companies highly prioritise diversity in senior management, their approaches are instructive. How does this leading-edge segment — we call them Gender-Forward Pioneers, or GFPs — move toward balancing their C-Suites?

  • GFPs take a stand. GFPs are much more likely than non-GFPs to formalise clear goals for improving gender equality (58 percent vs. 37 percent, respectively).
  • GFPs commit from the top. At GFPs, 42 percent of CEOs are leading the way compared to 21 percent at non-GFPs. This CEO-level involvement has a ripple effect: Companies whose CEOs are “chief equality officers” also have executive teams highly involved in gender equality initiatives.
  • GFPs share the news. Nearly seven in 10 GFPs (68 percent) publicly share information about their gender equality efforts. They believe such communications enhance their reputations, and they frequently communicate these efforts online, a wise approach for reaching a younger audience.
  • GFPs implement and execute more. At least half of the GFPs use minimally 13 of the 16 gender equality actions that we asked about, while half of non-GFPs used just four.
  • GFPs are dramatically more likely than non-GFPs to include gender equality as a performance review measure for managers, to seek evaluation of their gender equality practices by third parties, and to create committees to promote gender equality.

Here are some guidelines and recommendations for business leaders and companies to achieve greater gender equality:

  • Follow the leaders. Metrics matter
  • CEO champions are required
  • Value talent
  • Ignore the media at your own risk
  • Communicate, don’t equivocate
  • Develop your women’s leadership visibility
  • Scorecards are arriving. Pursue honours of recognition and leverage them
  • Use storytelling to craft a compelling narrative

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