Lack of woman at the top, HR to blame?


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Global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have suggested that some 85% of business leaders see gender diversity as a top priority (with 90% claiming to see a link between diversity and their companies’ success). I for one doubt these figures.  Why?
Put simply, if business leaders perceived a correlation between diversity and success, then it would have been achieved a long time ago.  That is the essence of business.  Do or die.  So to my mind the figures are probably accurately reported but of dubious value. I do agree with the reports authors saying “Overall, women are well-represented in the workplace, but the pipeline breaks down somewhere between middle management and the [top].” and when  the report then admonishes human resources profession (politely) by chiding “….the greatest obstacle is the need for each organisation to identify its own glass ceiling,” this being the role of HR, so I ask myself, have HR failed to make the right case?

In a statement BGC do not put the blame just on HR profession, moreover they blame failures squarely at the foot of employers generally.  Rainer Strack, senior partner and global leader of the HR topic says “The lack of women in leadership positions is primarily a problem of internal talent management; women receive considerably fewer promotions. ”Oops, here again a broadside is fired at us in the HR profession.  That said in a Business in the Community (BITC) report published Dec 2012 and promoted by the CIPD shows an area where HR is making a contribution by encouraging flexible working practices that (according to the BITC report) shows a ‘direct correlation between flexible working and greater gender diversity among employees who climb the career ladder.’

The BCG’s research reveals five themes organisations should explore as possible barriers in their own workplaces:

  1. A culture of office presence and “face time.”
  2. Lack of off- and on-ramping procedures for women who leave and re-join the workplace.
  3. Male-oriented selection criteria.
  4. Lack of gender diversity awareness among management.
  5. Inadequate management of leadership pipelines.

The report suggests that the most popular program offered by BCG’s respondents were women’s networking groups (68 percent), followed by diversity training, mentoring for women and skills training for women (with each program available at 46 per cent of companies studied).

However, other programs examined by BCG were far less common:

  • Diversity targets for managers (35 percent).
  • Role model campaign (25 percent).
  • Job-sharing in management (25 percent).
  • Financial incentives linked to diversity (22 percent).
  • Targeted recruiting for female talent (17 percent).

Well, we know that these help but they do not fix the issue; it remains.  So is a more radical shift required?

According to Shirley Engelmeier, author of Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage (Inclusion NC Media, 2012), “Because women often aren’t an integral part of leadership, their voices and insights are not heard.  Organisations cannot focus merely on having the right number of women in the workplace, They must also make sure that women’s voices are heard throughout the organisation.”

Another way to create opportunities for women to prove themselves is the suggested career lattice opportunities— or horizontal career paths and fewer career ladder opportunities.

Strategic Diversity and Inclusion
BCG recommends a systematic and strategic approach to diversity management. “It’s not about random percentages or yet another diversity training program,” said Susanne Dyrchs, co-author of the report and a BCG topic expert in diversity and talent management, in a media statement. “It’s about getting a complete grip on how an organisation recruits, retains, and promotes its diverse talent so it can identify its Achilles’ heel in terms of gender diversity.”

“The entire effort has to be viewed and pursued from the top down as an on-going, cross-company initiative,” the report added.

As Engelmeier says “Women make a significant share of the buying decisions … having [womens’] insights and expertise in key leadership roles is crucial to overall business success.”

A recent report highlighted by my own professional body CIPD shows a direct correlation between flexible working and greater gender diversity among employees who climb the career ladder.

Reference: Shattering the Glass Ceiling An Analytical Approach to Advancing Women into Leadership Roles