Scary Statistics! Women leaders climbing the ladder

We hear a lot of statistics about female leadership, and the gender gap in the office. But one new statistic has really shocked us. Corporate America promotes men at 30 per cent higher rates than women during the early stages of their careers.

So, for every 100 women promoted to a manager role, 130 men make the jump.

That’s according to a new study by and consultancy firm McKinsey. Its latest Women in the Workplace report is based on data from more than 130 companies across America.

And the statistics don’t get any more encouraging, with women underrepresented at every level of management.

Unfortunately, Ireland too still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality in the corporate world.

As Women in Leadership Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Laura Harmon works to reform structures and culture that will enable women’s progress in politics, boardrooms and senior positions in the public and private sector.

“The under-representation of women is something we certainly see in business, but also in other sectors, such as politics, media, higher education and so on,” she said.

For example, Harmon said that women account for only 16 per cent of membership of private corporate boards in Ireland, compared to an EU average of 23 per cent.

State boards, she explained, have hit 40 per cent female representation after gender targets were introduced. But it has been a slow process. “The government first set that target in 1993,” she said.

Companies that want to drive change, and bring more women onto their boards and into management positions, need to look at the structures they have in place.

“They need to establish a family friendly work environment, for example,” Harmon said. “The two weeks paternity leave is a step in the right direction. But it needs to be extended and more men should be encouraged to take it. It’s a cultural issue.”

Companies can work on removing “unconscious biases” too, Harmon said. Training on gender sensitivity, which will in turn feed into the hiring process, is one of her recommendations. Establishing mentoring programmes can also help women to progress.

For women frustrated by their workplace culture, Harmon suggested speaking out, and asking for information on progression opportunities. “And if there’s a network for women in your company or sector, join it,” she said.

While she’s all for “leaning in”, ultimately Harmon believes that change needs to come from the top down. “There’s got to be more responsibility on the organisation to drive change,” she said.

According to the Women in the Workplace report, only 45 per cent of US employees think their companies are doing what it takes to improve diversity outcomes. The report highlighted that even though more than 70 per cent of companies say they are committed to diversity, less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes.

An Irish study, published earlier this year by EY Ireland, pointed to a similar disconnect between what Irish companies say on diversity, and what they actually do.

Of the business leaders surveyed, 94 per cent said diversity and inclusion were vital for business performance, while 97 per cent said it was key for talent acquisition and retention. But about a third of Irish business leaders said their company spends less than €1,000 per year on diversity initiatives.

It’s not enough just to put in place a diversity programme to tick a box. “One of the key things with these programmes is they must have clear goals, action plans, targets, and the resources to deliver them,” Harmon said. “And it needs to be monitored. Someone needs to be accountable.”