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Today, on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2024, I am reflecting on the journey for women in Corporate America and the progress made.  I spent many years seated at the table with leaders of all levels, from Managers and Directors to CEO’s, championing diverse pipelines and preparing women for next level roles to help ensure their success.  I saw it as my mission to be a constant drumbeat, demonstrating the intentionality required to make real progress. With many leaders, that intentionality became engrained.  However, there were other leaders who never adopted this intentionality and who only complied when challenged.  That is why today’s topics on the leadership pipeline and the importance of assessing potential are so important.

As we celebrate and embrace Women’s History Month, I choose to reflect on data to inform me on the progress, or lack thereof, for women and diverse talent in the workplace.  My source for data and insights on our progress is the Annual Report from the McKinsey & Company and Lean In organizations:  Women In The Workplace.  It feels like significant progress has been made over the past nine years, since 2015 when the first Women In The Workplace comprehensive study was published.  Is that progress real and sustainable?

The answer is that it is real for women in the C suite, but the progress at the top is not trickling down into the pipeline of representation below the VP level.  Women In The Workplace begins each annual report with a chart assessing the corporate pipeline because it offers a birds-eye view at the health of progress for women in corporate America.

What does the data show?

Sizeable gains in senior leadership representation of women.  It is so encouraging to see the step-change number of women in the C Suite! Since 2015, the number of women in the C-Suite increased from 17 to 28 percent, an 11-percentage point improvement.  And the number of women in the VP and SVP levels have improved from 22 to 33 percent, up 6 pp, and 17 to 27 percent, up 4 percent, respectively.

However, the slow progress remains for women at the Manager and Director levels creating a broken rung in the pipeline.  For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step from Entry Level to Manager. In 2023, for every 100 men promoted from Entry Level to Manager, 87 women were promoted.  As a result of this broken rung, women fall behind and can’t catch up!

What conclusions to you draw for this data?  With further research in the report, mine are-

  1. Women are not responsible for it- Women do ask for promotions as often as do men.  And women are no more likely to leave their company than entry level men.  The research debunks these long-held myths.
  2. We must assess men and women on the same criteria- POTENTIAL. Today women are often hired based on past accomplishments while men are hired and promoted on future potential. This “performance bias” must be eliminated so that all people are assessed on future potential.
  3. Until the broken rung is fixed, gender parity in senior leadership positions remains impossible to achieve.

SO WHAT!? That is the title of the last chapter of my book – Gracious and Strong.  We all must play a role in working together to make intentional progress.  This requires the work of men and women together!

We collectively can break the cycle by:

  1. Rethinking how we identify potential.
  2. Focusing on career sponsorship and career readiness.
  3. Increasing the number of women and diverse talent from the Entry Level to the Manager and Director levels.
  4. Taking leadership steps to make clear that microaggressions are not acceptable.

Many of these action steps are the same as I identified in 2018.  However, there are distinctive differences in the specific ways we can implement change and with the urgency to accelerate progress in creating parity for women and diverse leaders.

During the month of March, I challenge you to pick w actions that you can take in making intentional progress for yourself and your teams in representation of women and diverse talent in your business:

  • If you are an individual contributor, how can you be a spark for change?  Invest in your own development and preparedness for promotion.  Become a credible influencer in your own career for advancement.
  • If you are a Manager of people and teams, ensure that all talent you select for promotion has been assessed for future potential, not just past performance.  And ensure that every time you interview for a position on your team, you have included women and diverse talent in your pool of qualified candidates.
  • If you are a Director or Senior Leader, do not tolerate microaggressions in your workplace.  Commit to training your teams on what is a microaggression and how they can cause real harm.  Create a culture where each individual is celebrated for their contribution and potential.

We are making progress at the top of our companies.  Celebrate that! Then ask yourself, how can I be the change I aspire to achieve?  Stand up for the values and processes that need to be implemented at our place of work.  Become a role model for growing and promoting an equitable representation of women and diverse leaders who achieve their full potential!

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