Women matter 2010: women at the top of corporations: making it happen

The fourth and final Women Matter report from McKinsey, Women at the top of corporations: making it happen (WM4), gives us good research and a strengthened foundation on which to expand policies and practices.

WM4 quantifies the results of WM3, Women leaders, a competitive edge in and after the crisis. There we read about the relationship between how companies prioritize gender diversity work and the initiatives they deploy. In WM4, the effectiveness of those initiatives gets measured, leading to identification of the best practices.

355 companies provided information facilitating the measurement process. For each of the 13 initiatives identified in WM3, companies were divided into two groups: those that implemented that specific initiative and those that didn’t.

In each group, the percentage of companies with over 15% women among its top leadership is specified. The difference between these gives an index, allowing us to rank the effectiveness of the thirteen initiatives.

I can only offer a hypothetical illustration, since WM4 includes the individual indices but not the numbers behind them. One of the actions is support programs and facilities to help reconcile work and family life. This action get an index of 12. This follows if 30% of the companies that do provide child care have over 15% women among their top leadership and only 18% of the companies that do not provide childcare have over 15% women in leadership. The difference is 12 percentage points; hence, the index.

The highest index is earned by CEO commitment:

  • Visible monitoring by the CEO of the progress in gender-diversity programs, which gets an index of 22.

The next two highest indices focus on women’s individual development programs.

  • Skill-building programs aimed specifically at women, 19,
  • Encouragement or mandates for senior executives to mentor junior women, 18,

The remaining five indices showing differences between the companies that implemented some action and those that didn’t highlight collective enablers, i.e. initiatives requiring the action of the organization rather requiring something of the targeted individuals:

  • Performance evluation systems that neutralize the impact of parental leaves and/or flexible work arrangements, 17,
  • Options for flexible working conditions or locations, 13,
  • Support programs and facilities to help reconcile work and family life (e.g. childcare, spouse relocation), 12,
  • Assessing indicators of the company’s performance in hiring, retaining, promoting, and developing women, 11,
  • Gender specific hiring goals and programs, 10.

Of the 13 actions studied in WM4, five of them made no difference; there was no significant correlation between use of that action and the percentage of women in the leadership of the company:

  • Systematic requirement that at least one female candidate be in each promotion pool,
  • Inclusion of gender-diversity indicators in executives’ performance reviews,
  • Programs to encourage female networking and role models,
  • Programs to smooth transitions before, during and after parental leaves,
  • Gender quotas in hiring, retaining, promoting, or developing women.

There is only one action that appears frequently alone, namely options for flexibility. This makes it difficult to gain a deep understanding of the five insignificant initiatives. Perhaps there were very few companies using them; we don’t know. When we have the opportunity for a closer look at McKinsey’s data, we should be able to tease this apart.

WM4 rounds off with a vision of the ideal gender-diversity ecosystem. It’s a rich and inspiring vision — certainly worth a read.

But there’s a more important vision for your organization, and that’s yours. What is it? How will you get the attention of your top leadership? How will you implement development programs and institutionalize the work of gender diversity? Find your answers to these questions. Your organization’s success depends on it!

Related posts: Women matter: gender diversity, a corporate performance driverWomen matter 2: Female leadership, a competitive edge for the future

Photo courtesy of Dave Wilson Photography.

About Curt Rice

My interest in leadership development at universities affects most of what I do, whether it’s working on gender balance issues, developing policies about Open Access, promoting research-based education or just about anything else. I'm a professor at the University of Tromsø, where I've spent the last decade serving first as the head of a Center of Excellence (2002-2008) and then as the Vice President for Research & Development (prorektor for forskning og utvikling) (2009-2013). I'm currently a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.


  1. yes I love woman bosses … they are more honest!


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