Research shows businesses with women in management positions outperform those that maintain the proverbial "glass ceiling," keeping women from achieving high level leadership positions. Women continue to struggle to even get into the leadership pipeline. When they do make it, many commonly experience resistance to advancing further after reaching mid-management positions.
It is easy to point to "bias" as the main barrier to women's advancement into leadership positions, but being accusatory creates resentment more often than it brings about change. A more effective approach is using leadership assessment tools, aligned with organizational goals, to remove persistent barriers that organizations have in advancing women.
Where's the Diversity and Inclusion?
The numbers tell the story.
The percentage of senior management positions held by women in the U.S. decreased from 23 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2018. Many statistics paint the same picture: Women are barred, consciously or unconsciously, from the leadership pipeline or from rising above middle management levels. The statistics on diverse women are even more dismal. Only 4 percent of executives and managers are Black, Asian and Hispanic women.
How are women kept out of management positions without the organization appearing to have biased talent systems? One way is through their evaluation processes. Joan C. Williams at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law has done considerable research on common bias patterns. One pattern discovered is that women are evaluated based on proof of past performance, while men are evaluated on their potential. The result is women's potential as leaders is ignored, and past mistakes carry more weight, morphing into reinforced stereotyping.
Assessing the Assessments
Organizations believing they have already taken all the right steps to build a leadership pipeline filled with women are not likely to make changes to processes, even if the results are disappointing. The belief is the assessment process is already objective because the same assessment is given to men and women. However, maybe it is inconsistently applied, or it fails to assess the qualities that women typically bring to management positions, like collaborative decision-making and empathy as opposed to "tough", linear decision-making qualities associated with men.
Assessing the assessment tools is a good first step.
If unconscious bias is built into the leadership assessment process, women are not going to move up the career ladder. It is important to assess the critical qualities and abilities that men and women need in today's business environment.
For example, evaluate a leadership candidate's interpersonal and behavioral tendencies, and use the scores in a balanced manner with past performance achievements. "Audition" people with digital simulations that demonstrate the ability to solve problems and make decisions in a dynamic setting. These kinds of consistently and fairly administered assessments identify critical leadership qualities and supplement assessments of job performance. The key words are "consistently and fairly," meaning men and women are assessed in the same equitable manner and decisions about future leaders are made based on the facts.
Additional strategies for transitioning women into leadership positions include simply asking women in the organization about the challenges regularly faced in the workplace, and gathering and implementing suggestions for change. Post-employment assessments offer ideal opportunities to ask women why they are leaving when they have "so much potential."
Another strategy is addressing counterproductive policies that single out women. Women continue to hit the "maternal wall" which stops pregnant and parenting women from getting well-deserved promotions. Developing equitable policies, like one that allows for maternal and paternal leave, works to end biases against women.
Change Through People with Power
Male managers must play an active role in changing the organizational culture to one that creates a successful pipeline for women leaders. Men hold the positions of power, so they must drive real change. Males can mentor or sponsor women, giving women with high potential more visibility. Organizations are offering unconscious bias training. However, real progress will only come when decision-makers are held accountable for results.
Accenture's worldwide survey found that women are 22 percent less likely to become managers than men, and a supportive organizational culture determines the ability of women to progress. The same survey also found that in organizations where women are more likely to rise, so are men. Everyone benefits when women become leaders. It takes bold leadership to make the progression of women into management positions an organizational priority, coupled with a refusal to accept the proverbial ceilings and walls preventing women from fulfilling their potential.
What do you think? Leave a comment, and make sure you check out the rest of our series on Succession Planning!