Breaking down the gender challenge

Gender Diversituy
Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Alexis Krivkovich, Eric Kutcher, and Lareina Yee for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

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To make meaningful progress on gender diversity, companies must move beyond the averages and focus on the biggest pain points.

Corporate ambitions to achieve gender parity often produce scattershot initiatives. It’s easy to see why: gender parity is a huge undertaking, with many dimensions—a challenge akin to urban planning—in which executives must reimagine their “city” and culture, put in place multiyear building plans, add infrastructure, and improve services. Our latest research suggests that leaders can cut through the complexity of the task by first establishing priorities linked with their organizations’ most pervasive talent-pipeline problems.

More specifically, data we collected during 2015 (in collaboration with, from 30,000 employees at 118 North American companies across nine industries, show that many organizations are afflicted by one of three common pipeline pain points: women are unable to enter, stuck at the middle, or locked out of the top (exhibit). Our hope is that if companies can recognize themselves in one of these patterns, they will be better able to target their gender initiatives. (For detailed data on industry pipeline patterns, see the downloadable PDF for this article. For more on the overall research effort, see “Women in the workplace,” which revealed that women are less likely to advance than men, hold fewer roles leading to top management positions, and are a century away from gender parity in the C-suite if progress continues at the pace that prevailed between 2012 and 2015.)

Unable to enter

A number of sectors—especially automotive and industrial manufacturing, energy and basic materials, and technology—are unable to attract women for entry-level positions, so women are poorly represented throughout the talent pipeline. This problem usually arises from recruiting challenges or pre-pipeline problems, particularly the low graduation rates of women in industry feeder programs such as engineering, where they receive about 20 percent, 24 percent, and 23 percent of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees, respectively.

The technology sector typifies these challenges. Women hold 37 percent of entry-level roles, versus 45 percent for our overall sample, and underrepresentation continues at each stage of the pipeline. Not surprisingly, 38 percent of women in technology feel that their gender will make it difficult for them to advance in the future. Sixty percent of women in technology also cite stress and pressure as their primary reason for not wanting to be a top executive. These figures are among the highest across all sectors surveyed.

Companies confronting entry-level hiring challenges can improve the health of their pipelines by making an up-front investment in the ecosystem of qualified female candidates and by focusing their efforts on achieving greater diversity in their recruitment processes. To expose the root causes of gender disparity at the pipeline’s start and to suggest solutions, companies should start by asking themselves questions such as these:

o What would it take to improve pre-pipeline gender diversity, and how might we play a constructive role in that effort?

o What quantitative targets could we track to improve the gender diversity of our recruiting pipeline in a meaningful way?

o How can we maintain objective recruitment criteria while empowering hiring managers to spot and interrupt unconscious bias? As we do so, how do we make sure our lateral- and experienced-hiring programs are also gender balanced?

Leading companies today are partnering with universities to cultivate talent early. Organizations such as Girls Who Code2or initiatives such as TechPrep3(launched by Facebook) nurture talent in early education, often at points where girls abandon paths leading to STEM4degrees. One technology company struggling with diversity in recruiting used advanced analytics in its résumé-screening process to identify and remove gender bias. This resulted not only in a more diverse pool of talent but also in higher-quality candidates overall. Another company focused on bias training for all managers involved in recruiting, and as a result a larger proportion of women received offers.

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Targeting pipeline blockages isn’t a panacea but can be a valuable means of jump-starting progress. We hope the patterns we’ve described here will help companies to focus their efforts, make meaningful changes, and build momentum to deal with less visible barriers. Tackling gender issues should not be a firefighting exercise—jumping, every year, to the next thing. It takes a strategic eye to find the root causes of gender inequality and build a new kind of organization

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Alexis Krivkovich and Lareina Yee are principals in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, and Eric Kutcher is a director in the Silicon Valley office. The authors would like to thank Parul Batra, Vikram Iyer, Marie-Claude Nadeau, and Jessica Zestar-Postrk for their valuable contributions to this article.

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