What women want: an exploration of gender diversity

With organizations aiming to create a workforce representative of the world’s population, gender diversity has traveled a long way. It’s no more a compliance conversation topic. From increased creativity, better market reputation, higher employee satisfaction, to lesser conflict and easier access to market resources – its benefits are far reaching. Inspite of this, there’s a gap in organizational gender ratios – 49% of Fortune 1000 companies have one or no women in their top teams.

To bridge this discrepancy, much research has focused on understanding what women want.

In 2013, Accenture surveyed over 4100 women across 33 countries, and found that 70% women desire a career that allows them to ‘have it all’ – a job, success, family, leisure. Yet, 50% of them were acutely aware of the challenge in achieving this. McKinsey’s research on ‘Women Matters’ concurs – “79% women want to succeed and reach top management positions, even if it requires making personal sacrifices.” But only 69% of them believe they can make it happen.

What then would spur women’s career growth?

  1. A renewed lens on performance. Though organizations offer flexi-work, 90% of women feel this reduces their chances of advancement. Quoting a McKinsey survey, “Most men and women agree that a top-level career implies ‘anytime, anywhere’ availability to work. This poses some challenges for female professionals.” Women want more freedom to pursue personal commitments, as well as professional achievement. Hence, they seek performance metrics that can offset the impact of maternity leaves and work-from-home policies.
  2. Holding jobs that offer more responsibilities like that of having direct reportees, and profit/ loss accountability, being functional managers, inclusion in networks or executing client facing roles. According to a Harvard Business School research, in order to balance work and life, more women were likely to make lateral moves within an organization or choose part-time work. No matter where they are, they want to be able to contribute to the company’s growth.
  3. Work-place sponsorship that goes beyond mentoring. Women today are looking for role-models who would champion for them, help in managing transition phases, provide concrete actions, define career objectives, and actively create visibility for them. This is considered an ideal situation, where leaders of today bring forward leaders of tomorrow.
  4. More awareness from male counterparts in the diversity conversation, to shift the focus from ‘fairness’ to ‘needs and outcomes’. The goal is for both groups to understand each other’s commitments and expectations. Though more than 80% men believe in diversity initiatives, only 50% agree that women have more challenges in career advancements than men. This discrepancy is believed to be an off-shoot of the current gender gap, and awareness of the role of women in workplaces can mitigate it.
  5. A diverse management model which can hold professional styles of both men and women: 40% of female respondents in the McKinsey survey believe their leadership and communication styles are different from the prevailing practices required to be effective top managers. There is a call for an authentic, person-focused business model. However, when it comes to ability, all respondents agree that women can lead well.

Many leaders would confirm the existence of these practices in their workplaces. The key to bringing in greater balance in gender ratios would then be to change the nature of conversations around this topic – a mélange of thoughts, experiences, and values that create true gender diversity. Are you ready to talk this language?

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