Strategic Partners

IBM study reveals global gender gap

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A new study by IBM, “Women, Leadership, and the Priority Paradox,” polled 2,300 executives and professionals and revealed that the leadership gender gap in the global workplace continues to persist because organisations have yet to make advancing women a formal business priority. The study also provides guidance on how to drive change.

The global study, conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed an equal number of women and men from organisations worldwide across multiple industries to better understand why a large gender disparity in the leadership ranks persists and what can be done to drive progress toward gender equality. In addition to the qualitative survey, IBV conducted a series of one on one interviews with executives and professionals across six global regions.

“Organisations have been placing a strong focus on diversity and empowering women and the business benefits of inclusive teams are now evident. The opportunity now is to move from inclusion being interesting to being imperative – just like we treat other top business priorities” said Susan Jain, IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer, Middle East and Africa. “Today, we are seeing key initiatives focusing on women empowerment that provide platforms for women to occupy leadership roles in the public and private sectors, ensuring their effective participation in the Middle East’s economic development.”

The study revealed that within those organizations surveyed, only 18 percent of senior leadership positions are held by women. This is due to three key factors: 
Organisations are not sold on the business value – 79 percent of respondents indicated that they have not formally prioritized fostering gender equality in leadership within their organizations, even though ample evidence correlates gender equity with improved financial success and competitive advantage. Other factors include men underestimating the magnitude of gender bias in their workplaces with 65 percent of male executives reporting it is just as likely they would have been promoted to a top leadership role even if they had been women, despite the low numbers of women that currently hold those roles. Also, few organizations display a sense of urgency or ownership about this issue. Organisations are over-relying on “good intentions” and applying a laissez-faire approach to diversity, rather than applying the disciplined focus on operational execution they apply to other aspects of organizational performance.

Despite these hurdles, there was a set of organisations — dubbed “First Movers” in the report — that stood out as being dedicated to achieving gender equality within their leadership ranks. Comprising 12 percent of the total sample, these organizations share characteristics and values that foster a more inclusive environment and provide a roadmap of how to create progress for other organizations: The study reveals that they are serious about gender inclusion – all (100 percent) have made advancing women into leadership roles a formal business priority. By comparison, only nine percent of other organizations have the same focus. They are motivated by the promise of financial improvement  and they acknowledge and embrace their responsibility to take action.

The study lays out a roadmap for change that includes making gender equality in leadership a business priority. Just as you would for any other formal business priority, legitimise your commitment by including the advancement of women in your organisation’s formal business plan with key performance indicators (KPIs), budget, and assigned resources.

Creating a culture of inclusion is another step, which should include gender equality in your organisation’s strategic mission statement, as well as programs that support more flexible work arrangements and formal sponsorship initiatives. Finally, make leadership accountable for gender equality results.It is the senior executives who truly have the power to make elevating women to leadership positions a key strategic business priority. Further, this is where the board of directors can play a role as part of their fiduciary responsibilities to grow the business.



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