Despite the fact that degrees of all levels—Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate—are more often earned by women than men, women continue to lag behind men in executive leadership positions, board membership, and compensation once they enter the workplace.
It’s a conundrum considering that, according to The Gender Dividend, by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., a full integration of women in both the workplace and the marketplace can yield significant return. So why is there still a lag in number of executive positions, board memberships, and equitable salary compensation for women?
Investing in women must be taken out of the realm of ideology and into the executive suite, where decisions are made. Once women complete their education and begin working, we need to do more to consistently move them into leadership roles. And this is only going to grow more urgent—all demographic data suggests that women are among the nation’s fastest growing workforce and consumer base.
What can be done to help women advance in the workplace in a way that is consistent with their academic track record? Actions and initiatives like sponsorship programs, executive accountability, and flexible work policies are needed to address key challenges facing the advancement of women.
Sponsors are senior leaders who speak up about and promote talented women. It is important that high-performing women are connected to people who are in a position of power, and whose influence and recommendation can ultimately lead to promotion and advancement. Senior leaders can undergo training to help them better understand what sponsorship is, how to address the needs of the women they are sponsoring, and how to provide effective feedback to people with backgrounds different from theirs. Moreover, when sponsors are held accountable for their rising leader’s success—whether by tracking metrics or by tying to compensation—results can skyrocket.
Additionally, initiatives that help women (and men) find the right flexibility are extremely powerful. That’s because flexibility is more than policy—it’s the ability for workers to customize their own career paths based on professional and personal commitments over time. Companies should become more responsive and flexible to allow employees to determine what works best for them, while still maintaining high-quality performance.
In the end, it takes intentional commitment and accountability throughout an organization to build an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive and become leaders.