Are You Getting Women in the Door, but Not on the Elevator?

You hear the question all the time:

Why don’t we have more women in leadership positions?

What’s happening?

A quick look inside organizations struggling with the issue of developing women leaders can be instructive.


In the case of the client with the world-class diversity program, the organization missed two important connections.

  1. the traditional career progression pathways that had worked well for a male-dominated workforce did not appeal to women.
  2. the relatively young female talent they were bringing in the door could not progress quickly; a bulge of late-career employees holding middle management positions was delaying timely advancement. Since the company did not have a rotation program, talented women felt they were stagnating and left.

May be, women within the organization are being sent a message:

you cannot attain your full potential here.

The attrition rate of women in their engineering division is also telling, since it is primarily those age 40-45, a time when many women need flexible working arrangements because they are primary caretakers.

When faced with choosing between their family and a company that appears to under-value their contributions, is it any surprise what decision many women are making?

How to get more women into leadership roles

The data is clear. Companies with women at the top perform better.

In fact, companies with the most female officers have better financial returns (34%).

Most of the executives know this. They want those results and they want to grow the pipeline of women in leadership.

They struggle with taking the actions to get the desired outcome.

Companies that are successful in moving more women into leadership roles:

  1. Determine the outcome they want and why they want it.
  2. Communicate their intention – internally and externally. Visit the blog of Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google for a great example!
  3. Examine policies, language, and processes – often unintentionally – tell women they are not welcome at the top.
  4. Get inside of their data – compensation, career progression, demographics, for example – to identify potential roadblocks to women’s advancement.
  5. Analyze career pathways to determine where they may require unacceptable trade-offs for women … and fix them.
  6. Understand their talent at the individual level – their dreams, aspirations, and perspective.
  7. Anticipate risk of organizational shifts on the desired outcome.

It may seem like a challenging “to-do” list.

But since when has a worthwhile outcome been anything but hard work?

Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise


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