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Shattering the glass ceiling. BCG on getting women into leadership

Glass ceiling

Boston, August 14, 2012--Most executives see a connection between diversity and corporate success. Fully 85 percent of leading organizations view gender diversity as a top priority relative to other diversity issues.

However, only about one in five companies have a targeted recruiting strategy for female talent, and only one in four offer job-sharing opportunities in management positions. Although now-widespread measures such as women's networks, mentorship programs, and diversity training for managers are steps in the right direction, they alone will not turn gender diversity into a competitive advantage.

This is the central finding of the study Shattering the Glass Ceiling: An Analytical Approach to Advancing Women into Leadership Roles by The Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed some 100 HR managers in 44 international companies. The study highlights the largest institutional and personal barriers preventing women from achieving leadership positions, highlights best-practice examples, and presents a systematic approach to promoting women in management.

Internal Talent Management Is One of the Greatest Barriers

The BCG study shows that the majority of the companies analyzed view diversity management in the context of ethical and social aspects. However, adding a strategic approach can help shorten innovation cycles and enable companies to address new markets and customers.

The greatest challenge for organizations lies not in a lack of awareness about the diversity topic, but rather in an inability to appropriately identify a company's own glass ceiling. "The lack of women in leadership positions is primarily a problem of internal talent management; women receive considerably fewer promotions," explained Dr. Rainer Strack, senior partner and global leader of the HR topic at BCG.

The barriers most frequently cited by study respondents were the poor management of leadership development for women, the culture of office presence, the difficulty of reconciling family and career, the lack of programs for women who leave and later rejoin the workforce, and male-oriented selection criteria in promotions.

A "Health Check" for Companies

In all industries, companies are implementing a variety of measures to increase workforce diversity. Since most of these measures are not grounded in quantitative criteria, however, targeted management remains elusive. Only 35 percent of the companies analyzed included diversity in their managers' target agreements, and only one in five offered managers financial incentives for achieving diversity targets.

The BCG study explores how a systematic and strategic approach can make diversity management a success factor. Importantly, that does not imply that organizations must simply put more effort into conventional initiatives, such as starting more affirmative-action programs or appointing more women to boards of directors.

"It's not about random percentages or yet another diversity training program," said Dr. Susanne Dyrchs, one of the report's authors and a BCG topic expert in diversity and talent management. "It's about getting a complete grip on how an organization recruits, retains, and promotes its diverse talent so it can identify its Achilles' heel in terms of gender diversity."

Such an approach starts with a "health check" that is based on quantitative and qualitative analysis in order to identify the causes of the imbalance in employee diversity and to generate acceptance of diversity efforts within the company. In the next step, targets and measures are defined that can promote the company's business success. Three factors--employee acquisition, employee retention, and employee development--should therefore be analyzed using defined key performance indicators (KPIs). One example of a useful KPI is a breakdown of the number of male and female new hires and promotions per business unit, job family, and company location.

Surveys and interviews conducted in the second step can shed light on the key problems and prejudices from the perspective of male and female employees, they also highlight the measures that are already applied successfully within the company.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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