More and more studies point to the impact of developing and advancing women’s leadership in the workplace. Focusing on gender diversity is associated with improvements in innovation, productivity, company reputation, and flexibility in an ever-changing marketplace. Women bring unique perspectives to the workplace and with women representing half of the market share, companies with strong gender diversity are better positioned to meet and anticipate consumer demand as well. Managed with honesty, respect, deep curiosity, and a pursuit of core truth, these new perspectives become productivity‐saving new ideas and industry‐leading innovations. For businesses this means differentiation and a competitive advantage in the form of highly adaptable and strongly diverse teams.
Not surprisingly, a growing number of companies are making strides to improve gender diversity. In fact, many recognize women’s retention, growth and advancement at all levels as a business imperative. Programs aimed at improving workplace gender diversity (e.g. recruitment and retention efforts, flexible workplace policies, leadership development programs, employee resource groups, diversity and inclusion councils, etc.) are proliferating at an unprecedented rate. And so is the number of women climbing into the ranks of senior and executive level management.
However, despite numerous advances and a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the value of gender diversity, obstacles remain. Many companies espouse a commitment to gender diversity but do not know how to fully integrate it into their culture. This allows for persistent and sometimes pervasive gender stereotypes and biases to endure. It is worth noting that some of these biases are perpetuated by women themselves, including the belief that they are not ready for advancement or that it is not ok to ask for what they want. Women may also lack opportunities to join informal networks, role models to support their professional growth, and the support and resources they need to achieve work/life balance. As a result women keep lower level jobs, change companies or drop out of the workforce all together. The numbers bear this out. Although women make up nearly 50% of the US workforce, they represent only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, 14% of executive level positions, and only 7.5% of the top earners. Female board members make up only 16% of Fortune 500 boards, and that number drops down to only 3% for women of color. 
What does this translate into? Missed opportunities. Companies with greater proportions of women in the leadership pipeline are outperforming their competition. Take for instance the findings of a recent Catalyst report: Fortune 500 companies with the highest number (3+) of women board members for an extended period of time (3‐4 years) saw an 84% increase on their ROS, a 60% increase on ROIC, and a 46% increase on ROE. When compared to the benefits of women’s advancement, lagging behind can translate into major losses.
Although companies are focusing more on gender diversity and implementing targeted initiatives to hold on to and help women advance, overcoming the barriers to gender diversity requires more than policies and optional programming. The focus on gender diversity must be embedded throughout the company culture. The culture must become conscious of the possibilities inherent in explicitly and fully embracing gender diversity. Executive leadership has to advocate for and hold the company accountable for its outcomes. This is the key to unlocking a conscious and inclusive culture of excellence.
About the authors
Pamela Mattsson (Axialent’s North America Managing Partner)
With more than 15 years of experience in international relationship management, consulting and entrepreneurship, Pamela is a leadership consultant and coach, course designer, and conference speaker. Read more>
Joselyn DiPetta (Axialent’s North America Director of Diversity and Inclusion)
Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist with over 10 years of experience in communications for behavior change; project design, implementation and management; training design and delivery; advocacy and strategic communications. Read more>