It may take up to three decades before organizations achieve gender parity in leadership roles, a new study from IBM reveals.
“Women in Leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline and what to do about it,” the 2023 study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, surveyed 2,500 individuals from 12 countries and 10 industries.
Some of its main findings include that while there has been a small increase in the number of women at the C-suite and Board level, and an increase to 40 per cent representation of women in junior professional or specialist roles, there is still a wide gap when it comes to leadership roles.
The pipeline for top leadership positions still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. IBM data found that in 2019, women in senior vice president roles stood at 18 per cent; this figure is now 14 per cent. In addition, in 2019, women represented 19 per cent of vice president roles. This time around, this number dropped by three per cent, now sitting at 16 per cent.
In addition, IBM’s report found that, over the course of 2020, women left their jobs in record numbers.
In the U.S., five million women – a generation of talent – were “suddenly sidelined,” the report says.
Survey respondents also ranked the pandemic as the most serious disruption facing women at work, recognizing the disproportionate and persistent toll it has taken on them. The number of organizations setting targets for equal representation of women fell from 66 per cent to 48 per cent.
However there was still significant progress made in other areas of the workplace.
According to Salima Lin, senior partner and vice president of strategy, transformation and thought leadership, IBM Consulting, the pandemic did bring more awareness to inequality at work.
“The pandemic shined a light on the challenges that women face in corporations. What we saw is companies understanding that they needed to take some action, otherwise they’re going to lose their top talent,” she said.
More businesses are offering career development for women, with 78 per cent of organizations providing it compared to 56 per cent two years ago. There has also been an increase in diversity training for managers that included a gender component, with 65 per cent of organizations offering this now, compared to 52 per cent in 2021 and only 28 per cent in 2019, Lin added.
“I think sometimes that awareness gets confused with real momentum and real change. And if there were two words that come to mind, for me personally, it’s urgency and speed. We need greater urgency, and we need to move faster and build on this momentum but continue to make some of the harder changes that are needed.”
When it comes to solutions that organization can use to close the gap between men and women, Lin breaks it down into four recommendations:
- Creating a strategy around achieving gender parity
- Redesigning roles to work for both women and men
- Reframing the advancement of women in the language of business
- Creating an action plan that drives gender parity at every level.
“There’s a specific sort of job criteria and roles that just allow us flourish. Even some basic things about greater flexibility and more work times that fit with a woman’s schedule is important,” she said.
Lin also reiterated the importance of acting on closing the leadership role gap as soon as possible. At the rate change is going now, gender parity remains decades away.
“Unless we act with speed and urgency in reversing it, we’re never going to get there, because the gap is growing.”