To Ensure a Diverse Workplace, Recruit More Future Women Leaders

Recruiting more women as potential leaders is the first step toward building a more diverse and inclusive organization. That's a lesson from a recent study that found companies with women in executive leadership roles are more confident in their ability to foster diverse cultures.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are differences between female- and male-led organizations. By many measures – flexibility, appreciation of difference, understanding diversity, empathy, and self-awareness – those led by women performed better, according to the survey from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Executive Development program.

"Successful companies are working harder to foster a culture of inclusion, and they're holding their senior leaders accountable," said Kip Kelly, the school's director of public programs.

A graphic from the UNC Kenan-Flagler online MBA program points out that in a number of ways, female-led businesses perform better than their male-led counterparts:

It's only in the last 50 years that a conversation about women in the workplace became possible. In 1960, 10 percent of women were "breadwinner moms,"  the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center. By 2011, that number had quadrupled.

The employment rate of married mothers with children increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011, according to the Pew report. In that time, the wage gap narrowed, too. In 1980, the median hourly wage for American women was 64 percent of men's, and in 2012 it was 84 percent.

Women reached the peak of their labor force participation in 1999, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a rate of 60 percent. That rate has since declined to 57 percent, and those women make up 47 percent of the total labor force.

All of this progress suggests that women should have surged into American C-suites by now. But while women hold 52 percent of management, professional, and related positions, according to the BLS, less than 20 percent of senior executives are women. Just 23 women served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2016, accounting for less than 5 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.

The U.S. isn't alone in this gender disparity. According to Forbes, almost four in ten businesses in G7 countries have no women in senior management positions. Only 24 percent of businesses around the world have women in senior roles.

Nevertheless, experts are optimistic. Evidence that having women at the highest levels of companies brings social and financial well-being will catch the attention of recruiters and other executives.

"The conversation is changing about diversity and inclusion," said Kelly. "Companies are recognizing that diversity is not optional – it is critical to the success and sustainability of every organization."