It’s taken more than 100 years to get a woman on U.S. paper currency and by the time the new $20 bills go into wide circulation, sometime in the 2020s, we may have little use for cash anyway.
The Harriet Tubman currency debate takes its cue from decades of discussion about gender diversity in business in that it’s been noisy, slow and mainly symbolic. The need for more women business leaders has inspired endless talk since the term “glass ceiling” came to wide attention 30 years ago, yet women in corporate America now hold only about a quarter of leadership roles, less than 20 percent of Board seats and less than 5% of CEO positions. At the pace of the last 50 years, women will reach pay parity in 2059.
So how do companies pick up the pace?
• Recognize the increasing scarcity of top executive talent. For years, business leaders have talked about talent but focused their resources elsewhere, treating gender diversity initiatives almost as a distraction. Now, as the baby boomers retire and the post-recession economy gives “A” players many options, the pool of highly skilled talent is shrinking just as companies face leadership transitions on a massive scale. No sane solution would omit women.
• Prioritize from the top. A 2015 study by Lean In and McKinsey found a gap in the perceptions that companies have about their CEO's commitment to gender diversity and the reality of what's actually taking place. While 74 percent of companies said their CEOs were on board, less than half of employees felt that way, and only three in 10 viewed gender diversity as a top priority for their direct managers. The C-suite sets the tone for a company’s talent brand, and employees recognize the difference between symbolic gestures and authentic buy-in.
• Devise a strategy. The 2015 research shows that women are 15% less likely than men to be promoted to the next level. Ultimately, the pipeline for top jobs has little room for women. If you want women to be ready for the C-Suite, you need to make a concerted effort to hire women at the senior level. Sometimes you might even need to hire the candidate with the most talent or potential over the candidate with the most experience.
To compete in a complex and fast-changing marketplace — with a workforce that increasingly spans countries, cultures and time zones — businesses need leadership teams that span genders. The new face on the twenty can offer inspiration, but when it comes to gender diversity in business, it will take more than talk to be right on the money.
By Julie Kampf