Changing companies minds about women

Despite significant corporate commitment to the advancement of women’s careers, progress appears to have stalled. The percentage of women on boards and senior-executive teams remains stuck at around 15 percent in many countries, and just three percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

The last generation of workplace innovations – policies to support women with young children, networks to help women navigate their careers, formal sponsorship programmes to ensure professional development – broke down structural barriers holding women back. The next frontier according to McKinsey’s Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee is toppling invisible barriers: mindsets widely held by managers, men and women alike, that are rarely acknowledged but block the way.

“When senior leaders commit themselves to gender diversity, they really mean it – but in the heat of the moment, deeply entrenched beliefs cause old forms of behavior to resurface. All too often in our experience, executives perceive women as greater risk for senior positions, fail to give women tough feedback that would help them grow, or hesitate to offer working mothers opportunities that come with more travel and stress. Not surprisingly, survey we conducted earlier this year indicated that although majority of women who make it to senior roles have real desire to lead, few think they have meaningful support to do so, and even fewer think they’re in line to move up.”

Barsh and Yee say their extensive research suggests that real progress requires system-wide change driven by hard-edged approach, including targets ensuring that women are at least considered for advancement, the rigorous application of data in performance dialogues to overcome problematic mindsets, and genuine sponsorship.

• For more on their suggestions, and the real-life examples that illustrate them, visit www.mckinseyquarterly.com

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