Report: Leadership Pipeline Problems Keep Women Out of the C-Suite

A recent report makes the case that progress on gender parity in top leadership roles often happens in fits and starts. The report makes the case that HR can help keep things consistent.

As we move past another International Women’s Day, a fresh report on the topic of women in leadership points out that progress is happening—but not at an adequate pace.

A survey of nearly 300 HR executives by Korn Ferry and the Conference Board finds that two-thirds of respondents believe that women are inadequately represented within their organizations—though 62 percent said that things had improved in their organizations over the past five years.

“The stalled journey to parity for CEO and board roles mirrors the journey of the broader workforce—at the current rate of progress globally, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report indicates parity is another 217 years away,” the report states [PDF]. “The trend line is comparable across virtually all industries, with little advancement in recent years despite heightened organizational efforts.”

A few key points from the “Effective Leadership Development Strategies at Pivotal Points for Women” report:

What is an adequate level of representation? While a 50/50 split would generally be considered desirable at the highest levels of an organization, most respondents said they would be OK with having 46 percent representation at vice president and higher roles. For organizations that don’t have that level of parity, a goal to aim for might be to have women in at least three board seats on a 10-member board—a 30 percent level that is seen as a “tipping point” in which the business benefits of having better representation start to show themselves.

An improved, but imperfect, pipeline. While around 40 percent of respondents said that their leadership pipelines have grown increasingly diverse, many respondents said that the pipeline showed limitations and faced challenges with effectiveness. This was often seen at the highest levels of an organization: Two-thirds of respondents said that gender representations saw sharp declines starting at the senior manager level. And while gender representation was often baked into succession planning, only around a quarter of respondents thought their strategy was effective.

A place for HR to step in. The report makes the case that HR departments can often help frame the broader goals in a way that helps align diversity goals with an easy to follow guardrail for moving forward. “Gaining alignment and coordinating as a senior team are required to ensure that when a pause or action is taken, support will follow,” the report states. “This is necessary to be effective in disrupting the systems and practices that are deeply ingrained throughout the talent cycle.”

Rebecca L. Ray, the executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, explained in a news release [PDF] that the HR team can help get at the deeper issues that can lead to the pipeline disparity.

“HR and business executives need to take a step back to better understand and address the systemic reasons behind the gender imbalance,” she stated. “Reasons include pay inequity, hiring manager bias and accountability, a lack of sponsors and champions, as well as the lack of programmatic support for the integration of work and life.”

(PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!