Why is closing the gender gap an urgent issue?
You only have to look at the facts. In the developed world, just 14 to 16% of board members are women – and it’s lower than 5% in several European countries. In the US and Europe only 3 to 4% of CEOs and around 15% of the C-suite are women. At the same time, women represent about 60% of graduates and are entering the workforce in equal proportions to men. But the higher you look, the lower the numbers get. The worst thing is that this isn’t changing. The numbers have been flat lining for years.
Some people might say, we have more important things to worry about right now. The state of the global economy, for example...
For the sake of economic growth, stronger governance, better decision making… all the research shows that we need more women leaders. The business case is clear. Closing the gender gap is both important and urgent.
Does your research reveal anything that can help us all to close the gap?
First, it shows that women don’t get channelled into the jobs that lead to the top. They tend to go into HR or Communications. Second, my research shows that mentoring is key, but that men have traditionally found mentors with power and influence, while women find mentors who can help them to think about ways of doing things better. Third, the research shows that there’s a major issue about the way women are perceived. They’re either viewed as too aggressive or not aggressive enough! I think there are lessons for both individual women and organisations in those three findings.
Are you optimistic about the future of women in business?
Yes, I see a will to change that’s new and a greater sense of urgency. Women at the top are speaking up. People like Sheryl Sandberg, COO and board member of Facebook (who was also on my panel at Davos), are calling for a more open discussion of gender stereotypes and organisations as well are urging women to take a seat at the table. There are great developments in unexpected places like the Middle East, while in Europe we now have quotas for women on boards. Here at INSEAD we’ve been helping to create a global list of board-ready women. Today, I feel as if my research about the gender gap is finally part of a worldwide momentum for change.