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More Room at the Top: Enabling Women Leadership

More Room at the Top: Enabling Women Leadership
Karan Puri - Senior Corporate Vice President - Consumer and Commercial Services, Americas | March 3, 2017

Companies can boost performance and profitability by adopting a top-down approach to fostering greater gender diversity at the senior executive level

Where are the women?

Women comprise nearly 40% of MBA graduates in the US and an equal percentage of managers across companies. 26% of college presidents are women, and so are 20% of deans among business school leaders. Women also make up one in five partners in private law firms. These statistics paint an encouraging picture about the professional progress of women. But, take a look at the top corporate leadership scene, and you will see all is not as hunky-dory as it seems.

Even as we have ushered in 2017, only 4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions are held by women. Female CEOs such as Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Indra Nooyi remain outliers. A range of reasons continues to perpetuate this scenario.  These include women taking time off to care for loved ones, continued existence of underlying gender bias, and lack of support from senior management.

Women have much more miles to go before they truly shatter the glass ceiling, and move up the corporate ladder into top leadership positions. And by creating a conducive environment for more women to reach the top, even companies stand to gain in terms of a better bottom line. A survey of 22,000 firms globally by the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows that a mere 30% female representation in corporate leadership in a firm, compared to none initially, led to a one percentage point increase in net margin. This translated into 15% increase in profitability for the firms.

Getting more women into corporate leadership positions

By discouraging gender discrimination across the management ranks, you can effectively recruit, promote, and retain talent. Your focus must be on rewarding female employees with responsibilities commensurate with their talent and encouraging their progress at all levels. We will be able to see significant changes only when more men in higher positions proactively believe in and root for women leaders.

Here are three key ways you can give a boost to gender diversity in the C-Suite:   

  1. Focus on the boardroom

To grow the number of women in your executive corridors, begin with your boardroom. You can draw inspiration from Fortune 500 companies like General Motors or Hewlett-Packard, which boast of both a female CEO and a diverse board. By replicating the norms in countries like Norway that have created gender quotas in board membership, you can provide strong examples for women, encouraging them to confidently pursue senior executive positions.

  1. Ensure workplace sponsorship

Another effective way to identify and nurture efficient women leaders is to institute a formal leadership and mentorship program that offers women one-on-one support. Systematic sponsorship of women leaders will help them gain confidence and realize their true potential. Provide women with experienced mentors who consistently support their career advancement and steer them in the right direction.

Never hesitate to train and encourage young women to take on complex projects, and catalyze their growth into positions with increasing responsibilities. You can also build an active business resource and networking groups that provide women the much-needed support structure to scale greater heights in their career.

  1. Foster business education

A fine grip over all matters related to global business will enable women to become truly inspiring and successful leaders, who make an impact. Women’s journey towards the top must, therefore, begin right at the institutions required to nurture young women’s interest in business. Business schools, in collaboration with corporate businesses, must make concerted efforts to nurture confident female leaders, well versed in strategic business matters. They must provide the right impetus by increasing female enrollment and enable them to develop and hone the skills required for business leaders.


You can no longer continue to believe that gender equality is merely a matter of corporate social responsibility. Far from that, gender diversity is a strategic differentiator, enabling innovation and driving revenue growth for your company. If you wish to stay ahead of the competition, it is imperative you design holistic diversity programs that bring about true change.

To ensure greater inclusivity, you will need to implement a more comprehensive ecosystem of measures, backed by a strong, visible commitment from the CEO and the executive committee. Above all, enable women to build a multi-dimensional and an authentic personal brand, and grow into charismatic personalities, who can inspire confidence across your corporate ranks.

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