In the past 25 years there has been a vast amount of discussion on promoting female talent in the top layers of companies. In my view this has resulted into lots of recognition for the subject but not much achievement. Much to my surprise I must say, for in the past years I have met quite a lot of female executives who are I my view well equipped and motivated to take on the top jobs. So where does it derail?
Window dressing is an important derailment factor; for women think they are being approached just because of their gender and things won’t change and business will continue as it was before. Women want to be hired because of their track record, skills and added value. They are much more conscientious when it comes to a career switch. They ask me how D&I is engrained in the strategy and culture of the company? Is the CEO, including his peers, a believer and supporter of D&I in all its aspects?
The role of an executive searcher in this context is very important. On the one hand you need full access to the Board to get the much needed insights and on the other hand you need to have a good relationship with the female candidates. Not investing time in this, is also a derailer. As said women are much more conscientious and take time to think about a career switch. They are also more risk averse than men are. They do not want to be pushed into making a decision and take a lot of variables into consideration in this process. Taking time to built a relationship with female executives is crucial for building trust and being an advisor to them.
Bias is another important derailer. Most male executives simply do not have the experience of working with females in Boardrooms. They were surrounded by Male colleagues during their career and simply lack the understanding how to interact with their female peers or colleagues. But I have noticed a slight change in this. The new generation of board members do acknowledge the importance of Gender Diversity and have had more experience in working with their female peers.
Cultivating Diversity in the DNA of your organisation’s culture in order to create a pool of female talent and setting up retention programs for female talents are examples of how you can prevent future problems in succession planning in the context of Gender Diversity. Female board members often say they had a (male) sponsor/mentor in the Board who helped them further their career in the company. Subsequently they become role models for future female board members, an important driver for retention.
We still have a long way to go. The percentage of females in Executive Boards is still very low. For me creating awareness for Gender Diversity, building a global network of female executives and helping companies to connect with female talent, is a big challenge but also my passion.