Leaders have the ability to influence behavior, initiate broad policies, and advocate the careers of women
The benefits of gender diversity and equity are well researched and definitive: women are vital for business performance. When women are better represented within an organization, especially in senior management and on boards, companies generate higher shareholder returns.
This should be great news for women, but despite the value they can contribute, women often don’t feel optimistic about their prospects for advancement. A 2017 study showed that women of all races and ethnicities are less optimistic than their male counterparts about their prospects of winning a top job, regardless of ambition. These women are not necessarily miscalculating. Just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs were in 2018, down from a peak of 6.4% in 2017. What’s more, four in 10 women report experiencing gender-based discrimination at work.
Women’s access to opportunities is personal to me. Thirty years ago, I was one of the first women at my company to have a child and to propose nontraditional arrangements that helped me manage my career and my family. Expanding my career while raising my family was often challenging, but I’m grateful and fortunate that I had the support at work and at home that I needed.
During my career, my company has been private and public. I’ve held client-facing, functional, and leadership roles. I’ve traveled internationally and worked with companies from startups to large multinationals. All the while, I’ve recalibrated my relationship to work as my life demanded, working full-time, part-time, and no time.
I was able to manage my life and my career holistically, but not everyone is as lucky as I was. I wouldn’t have gained the experiences and knowledge that I prize without the support of allies, mentors, and advocates.
With all of this in mind, I’m certainly pushing Guidehouse to stay out in front and to lead by example. That starts at the top, where our board of directors is 45% female and key senior management roles are led by accomplished women.
Moreover, Guidehouse has developed programs, such as our Women’s Employee Resource Group and our Diversity & Inclusion Council, to help women gain the career leverage they need, both within Guidehouse and in our communities. Our programs address the entire span of a career, including the needs and concerns of women in senior roles.
How you can help
You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t care about equity in access to opportunities for advancement. Remember that a whisper from above can become a shout below, so your efforts and demonstrated values as a leader (regardless of your title or gender) can be amplified and reverberate throughout the organization. Here are some ways to support the efforts of your female colleagues to advance and contribute from larger platforms.
Advocate for high-performing women. Advocacy help careers flourish. Advocates go to bat for their protégées and advise them on the tactical and strategic moves that would position them for their next role. Identify talented women in your organization and get to know them and their work. If you successfully advocate for a high performer, you will derive fulfillment and career benefits as she advances.
Be a mentor. Make yourself available to give advice and feedback to talented women at different career stages — and make your availability known. Today’s mentees will be tomorrow’s leaders.
Find or create a network of women and allies. This can be within a single organization or span various organizations. Networks of high-achieving women and allies make it more likely that women will succeed in their careers and their lives. What’s more, communities of people, especially leaders, who value equity for women, tend to amplify these values and make it more likely that they will translate into actions and results.
Interpret diversity and equity using a broad lens. Diversity and equity are multidimensional, which makes it important to strive for equity and access for diverse women. Consider differences in race, geography, education, nationality, and other factors that can contribute to someone’s perspective. Then use those insights to recruit and welcome a variety of people to your team and network.
We all are increasingly aware of both women’s positive impact on business performance and their underrepresentation in senior leadership. Behaviors can be slow to change, and organizations even more so. Leaders, such as yourselves, have the ability to influence behavior, initiate broad policies, and advocate the careers of those they already know. The result will be stronger and more attractive organizations that reflect the diversity of all our stakeholders.