Step Two In The Path To Parity: Increase Women in Senior Operating Roles

Women are underrepresented at almost every level in the corporate pipeline, and they are drastically underrepresented at the senior levels. And while company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high, calls for greater diversity haven’t moved the needle.

There is widespread agreement that more needs to be done. The Paradigm for Parity® 5-Point Action Plan is the solution. When implemented together, the five steps can catalyze change and enable substantial progress towards gender parity. As part of our Path to Parity series, this week we are showcasing the second step in the Action Plan: Increasing women in senior operating roles, with validating commentary from Paradigm for Parity® companies.

Ensuring women are well represented in senior operating roles is central to achieving real parity between men and women in corporate leadership.

The data is clear — there is a strong business case for having inclusive leadership teams. According to Credit Suisse Research, companies with 50% women in senior operating roles show 19% higher return on equity on average. A move from just 0% to 30% female leaders in companies is associated with a 15% increased net revenue margin, according to recent research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY.

From: Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY

Karyn Twaronite, Global D&I Officer of EY expands on these findings, noting: “Equally is important to build a sustainable pipeline of high-performing women. EY’s research with Peterson also tells us that there would be a beneficial impact on the global economy if more companies invested in developing a robust pipeline of female leadership. It’s not just about getting a lone women to the top. Companies that have female leadership interacting across many levels — directors, CEOs and executives — will achieve the highest return.”

These financial returns are realized when people with different experiences, skills and approaches come together to solve a problem and innovate. In fact, a recent analysis by Scientific American determined that inclusive workplaces foster creativity, innovation, open-mindedness and diligence.

As Maya Kalkay, Managing Director, U.S. Human Resources, Burson-Marsteller notes, “We understand that better ideas are formed when we can draw on the wide range of experiences and backgrounds of a diverse workforce. An equal balance of women and men at all levels of our organization is vital to our ability to discuss ideas openly, to challenge convention and to offer higher-level recommendations to our clients that require strategies that will resonate in today’s world.”

Agnieszka Yank, Chief Talent Officer of APCO Worldwide elaborates, “Advancing women to senior operating roles is vital in producing a better product and a better company, which is why we offer flexible work hours for working mothers and have placed women in leadership positions across our global network.”

“Women are getting their college degrees at a higher rate than men, they are living longer, and starting their own businesses; yet they continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. Setting goals demonstrates commitment, provides focus, and establishes accountability,” said Jacqueline Trapp, Chief Human Resources Officer of Edison International.

Unfortunately, data also show that women are significantly underrepresented in line roles, which are the pathway to leadership positions. The recent Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey and Lean In points out: “By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold only 21% of these positions. Since the vast majority of CEOs come from line roles, this dramatically hurts women’s odds of reaching the very top.”

The first step, according to Joyce Russell, the President of Adecco Staffing USA., is assessing your team and having a plan to address the imbalance. “Until the gender gap is closed, companies should make equality a staple in their corporate strategy, starting with auditing their senior roles for gaps. Change starts from the top down, and if a company is serious about fixing issues in equal pay and paradigm, it should have a leadership team reflective of that. Simply being ‘conscious’ of inequity, with no plan, is not a solution,” Russell explains.

Julie Fasone Holder, a founding member of Paradigm for Parity® explains the importance of being transparent about what the path upward looks like for workers: “Companies need to be transparent as to what roles are necessary for employees to have a shot at top roles. This is often not obvious to women — it may be one of the “unwritten rules.” During career discussions, leaders need to make this obvious and put women in these roles early enough in their career so that they learn the needed skills and can compete.”

Gail Jackson, VP Diversity & Inclusion of UTC emphasizes that inclusivity and diversity in leadership are attractive characteristics to potential talent and customers. “Diversity combined with inclusion powers innovation for our customers, allows us to attract top talent and positions UTC as a next gen company. Increasing the number of women in senior operating roles attracts more diversity throughout the organization. Women see role models and men experience women as senior leaders,” she says.

Steve Mizell, the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer of Monsanto says: “the relentless growth of women economic decision making is an undeniable demographic trend all organizations face. Industries that haven’t recognized the influence of women decision makers face obsolescence. If organizations expect to succeed, their leadership needs to reflect the customer base they must serve.”

By embracing our 5-Point Action Plan, companies can ensure gender balance in senior operating roles and move forward on the path to gender parity.

The Paradigm for Parity® 5-Point Action Plan encourages companies to set a series of objectives to achieve this goal — ensuring that no single gender accounts for more than 70 percent of senior levels, moving to 60 percent in the medium term, with an ultimate goal of 50/50. Showing progress along the way demonstrates an important commitment to parity and diversity as companies work to achieve these goals.

About the Paradigm for Parity® Movement

The Paradigm for Parity® coalition is composed of CEOs, senior executives, founders, board members and business academics who are committed to achieving a new norm in corporate leadership: one in which women and men have equal power, status, and opportunity.

The coalition created the Paradigm for Parity® 5-Point Action Plan for corporations to accelerate the pace of gender equity in senior executive roles. This unique agenda defines bold and specific actions that, taken together and simultaneously implemented as a package, will catalyze change and enable today’s business executives to secure the best leaders of tomorrow. Visit or follow us on Twitter using @p4parity to learn more about this exciting initiative.



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