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Women in Leadership Pipeline has Hollowed Out in the Middle: IBM and Chief Study

Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, IBM Consulting India/South Asia
Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, IBM Consulting India/South Asia

The leadership pipeline for women has hollowed out in the middle, according to a new global study “Women in leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline—and what to do about it” from the IBM (NYSE: IBM) Institute for Business Value (IBV) and Chief.

The study* found the number of women at the C-suite and Board level is now 13% and 14% representation respectively and 41% representation of women in junior professional/specialist roles. However, globally, the pipeline for top leadership positions still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels – 14% representation of women in senior vice president roles (18% in 2019) and 16% in vice president roles (19% in 2019).

In addition, 39% of those surveyed in India report they have made advancing more women into leadership roles a top, formal business priorities – 6% lower than the global figure of 45%

“While we’re pleased to see slight progress in the representation of women at the C-suite and Board levels, it’s imperative that companies do more to fill the pipeline that leads to these powerful positions,” said Lindsay Kaplan, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Chief.  “Women are significantly underrepresented at nearly every level of the workforce. If companies prioritize gender diversity across their entire organizations through policies, investments, and a culture that meaningfully supports women, we’ll see a transformative impact — equity for everyone in the workplace and stronger, more resilient businesses.”

Kamal Singhani, Country Managing Partner, IBM Consulting India/South Asia said, “Although the optimism and overall voice for gender parity in many industries is on the rise, organizations must take outcome-based steps to make this a reality. A deep involvement from organizations towards creating women leaders at workplaces will change industry dynamics from not Just the perspective of diversity & inclusiveness but from exponential growth and future-readiness standpoint as well.”

The study also found Optimism is rising, but it doesn’t reflect the reality.  Respondents estimate their industry will see gender parity in leadership in 10 years or less, compared to 2019 when the average industry estimate was 54 years. But the reality is, at the current rate of change shown in the survey, gender parity is still decades away. In India, those surveyed are less optimistic, stating 13 years or less to bridge the gender parity in leadership roles

The Study found that structural barriers and unconscious bias continue to hinder women’s advancement: Since the height of the pandemic, more organizations have implemented career development planning for women, diversity training, and the creation of women’s networking groups. However, biases persist – for example, only 41% of male managers say their organization’s leadership believes that women with children are just as dedicated to their jobs as others.

The attributes perceived as critical for leadership also remain gendered: Respondents shared men are primarily valued for creativity and being results-oriented with integrity and expected women to be strategic and bold but also people oriented. Being a ‘strategic visionary’ and ‘open and transparent communicator’ are the attributes perceived as most important for women to be promoted to a leadership position in India. For men, being ‘innovative and creative’ and ‘assertive, bold, decisive and courageous’ are the most important attributes.

The pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on women at work: Respondents globally and in India rank the pandemic as the most serious disruption facing women, recognition of the immense, lasting toll it has taken on them. Geopolitical unrest is ranked number two globally and locally

The study also presents a roadmap for sustainable progress based on leadership practices gathered from the research findings, including:

  • Reframe women’s leadership advancement in the language of business results, such as quantifying the concrete economic gains that accrue from righting gender imbalances.
  • Give your strategy teeth, such as putting specific directives and measures behind your organization’s action plan, like setting measurable targets for women’s advancement.
  • Enact an action plan aimed at driving gender equity across the full leadership pipeline, like going beyond awareness training to using experiential learning techniques like role playing and reverse mentoring to shift biases.
  • Re-design roles at the top that work for top talent, for example, limiting hiring criteria to a core set of gender-neutral requirements.

The global study, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Chief in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed more than 2,500 executives, managers, and professionals—an equal number of women and men—from organizations in 12 countries and 10 industries. It follows studies from 2021 and 2019 that surveyed respondents representing the same range of roles, industries and regions to allow for longitudinal analysis.


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