Where Are the Women?

I recently attended a session at my alma mater that focused on gender balance in finance, asking the question “Where are the Women”? I hate to say it, but at the end of the session, the question wasn’t answered. In addition, the panel was having the same discussion we were having 35 years ago. It was all quite disappointing.

After all this time, why are we still having these same conversations? It’s not just financial companies that struggle with getting and keeping women leaders in their ranks, it’s companies of all kinds, sizes and shapes. Some of them still just don’t get it – they don’t understand why it’s important and how it’s actually hurting their company by not having diverse
leadership. Others don’t know how to do it.

So just what does it take?

First of all, it takes a deep understanding of the issues women face in your company. Not what management thinks those issues are, but rather what women at all levels of your company consider the barriers to climbing the ladder within your organization. To get to the bottom of this, executive leaders need to really listen to what the issues are, then explore, examine and really get to the core of what’s going on. Only then will you be able to address it and actually make progress.

Secondly, the organization needs to commit to making the necessary changes within the organization that
remove the barriers. This needs to emanate from the top, be very vocal and prominent, and permeate the organization in everything from communications to performance management systems. Believe me, this won’t be easy. In some cases it can mean changing your culture, which is no easy task.

A while ago I was meeting with a female executive at a Fortune 500 company. She asked me what I had heard about the company ‘on the outside.’ I told her I’d heard it was a tough place for women to work. She agreed that it was; it was getting better but it was still a difficult environment for women. She went on to say that people across the organization do not value the opinions of new employees. You have to be there at least a year before your input matters. The thinking is that you don’t know the “XYZ Company” way and consequently your input is dismissed. My response was that it appeared to me the company may not value
diversity in a number of ways –gender, experience or thought. Then I asked her what turned out to be an eye-opening question: “Do you think you have enough turnover”? She thought about it for a while and responded ‘probably not’, but it was clear she hadn’t thought about that.

This company needs a major culture change –along with a few other things. They probably need to have a
little more turnover to help make that culture change happen. Too much turnover, of course, is not a good thing. But too little can be just as harmful, just in different ways, resulting in a stale mentality that doesn’t value new ideas, people or different experiences.

Thirdly, you need a long term strategy to deal with the issues. It can’t be some “flavor of the month”
program that’s here today and in a couple of months, replace it with some other new idea that comes along. That will do more harm than good. Like any other strategy, you need to keep it in the forefront, track and
measure progress and be sure you’re reaching the desired goals.

The women are out there – lots of them – with great talent. You just need to find them and then find the
right way to keep them and develop them.


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