Leadership gender gap continues to persist globally: study

The leadership gender gap in the global workplace continues to persist because organizations aren’t making the advancement of women a formal business priority, according to a new study by the IBM Institute for Business Value in cooperation with Oxford Economics.

The study surveyed an equal number of women and men from organizations worldwide across multiple industries to better understand why a large gender disparity in the leadership ranks persists and what can be done to drive progress toward gender equality. 

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It found, within the organizations surveyed, only 18 percent of senior leadership positions are held by women. More than three-quarters (79 per cent) of respondents indicated they haven’t formally prioritized fostering gender equality in leadership within their organizations, even though ample evidence correlates gender equity with improved financial success and competitive advantage.

“The past year has heightened the world’s focus on diversity, and the business benefits of inclusive teams are now well-documented,” said Michelle Peluso, senior vice-president of digital sales and chief marketing officer at IBM. “The opportunity now is to move from inclusion being interesting to being imperative — just like we treat other top business priorities.”

Despite these hurdles, the study found a set of organizations — which it called First Movers — are standing out in their dedication to achieving gender equality within their leadership ranks. Comprising 12 per cent of the total sample, these organizations share characteristics and values that foster a more inclusive environment and provide a road map of how to create progress for other organizations, noted the study.

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All of the organizations in this group have made advancing women into leadership roles a formal business priority. This is compared to just nine per cent of other survey respondents. As well, this group is sold on the idea that gender inclusive organizations are more financially successful, whereas only 38 per cent of the total sample agreed. And while the majority of survey participants agreed that businesses need to continue making changes to achieve gender equality in the workplace, 29 per cent more of First Movers are passionate about taking action than other organizations.

“What we have learned from First Movers is the importance of setting measurable goals and defining a systematic approach to inclusion across the organization,” said Peluso. “This means everything from recruiting to rewarding, developing, retaining and promoting women. And, then, we must ourselves accountable to meet these goals.”

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