What can be done to curb the tide of women leaving leadership? 

Companies across the globe are trying to increase diversity at the top yet women are leaving senior positions at an alarming rate – what can be done to curb the tide?

Female leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate ever, according to the latest report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org. The organisations behind the data are calling the mass exodus from senior positions “The Great Breakup” citing many reasons including a lack of flexibility and too many barriers to success.

Despite many years of companies championing diversity among business leaders the statistics aren’t great. Only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female and 9% of FTSE100 bosses are women. And yet FMCG giant Unilever, announced in 2020 that it had achieved gender balance across management globally. If it’s not impossible to achieve – how can companies attract more women?

How can companies attract more women leaders? 

“Looking beyond women’s leadership challenges, there are much bigger cultural challenges within organisations that are constraining women’s ability to advance to leadership roles without a battle,” explains Culture Consultancy co-founder, Derek Bishop. “There is a need for systemic change beyond the female leaders themselves.”

Wider cultural issues certainly seem to be at play when you look at the stats in the report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org. Shockingly women leaders are 2x as likely to be mistaken for someone more junior, 37% of women leaders have had a co-worker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men leaders and for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of colour are promoted.

To address these issues, companies need to work with each and every person within the business, and every department, to combat the kinds of internal biases that lead to assumptions, mistakes and in many cases unfair promotions. Even the kinds of questions women are asked differ from their male counterparts.

“Women are far more likely than men in leadership to have colleagues question their judgment or imply that they aren’t qualified for their jobs,” says the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org. “Women leaders are also more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender or being a parent, have played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.”

It’s time to take a holistic approach to women in leadership 

Yet, many of the programmes designed to increase the number of female leaders in a business are focused solely on the female leaders themselves rather than looking creating change across the business as a whole.

“For us, it’s about looking at the cultural environment within which we’re trying to achieve growth in female leadership,” says Bishop. “When systemic things need to change you’ve got to look beyond the female leaders themselves – this isn’t about upskilling them, it’s about reducing the factors that get in their way.”

Sure enough, the findings point to cultural challenges which could be addressed. According to the Women in the Workplace report, 49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company, compared to 34% of male leaders. Two-thirds of women under 30 say they would be more interested in advancing if they saw senior leaders with the work-life balance they want.

Seeing the need for a programme that focuses on creating the right environments for female leaders to flourish, Culture Consultancy has created SMASH – a programme for developing diverse leaders, galvanising allies, and creating an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.

The programme adapts and improves the company culture to better advance diverse leaders, equips diverse leaders with the practical skills and tools they need to advance, and ensures the wider team is empowered to support them.

The message is simple: if you want to increase female representation at the top – look beyond the women in your organisation to the inhibitors holding them back.

 

Find out more about SMASH, our women’s leadership programme – a brand new leadership programme that’s truly holistic and how it can help advance the women in your organisation, whilst helping you become more inclusive and diverse. 

Delve into the diversity dilemma more by listening to our special podcast episode on The cultural norms holding women back with The Nurture Network featuring Co-founder Derek Bishop.