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More Women In The Boardroom? It’s An Intense Workout, Not A Light Jog

Post by Sabina Nawaz

September 6th, 2015

 

By now, we all know having more women in the boardroom is good for business. Research conducted by Roy Adler, professor of marketing at Pepperdine University, demonstrates that corporations with a strong track record of promoting female executives consistently beat their competition across 18 different measures of profitability. Research also shows that including more women on corporate boards boosts innovation and social responsibility.

Yet, at the present rate of change, it will take 28 years to achieve gender parity in the corporate boardroom, according to executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. What is holding women back from joining boards? Is it a lack of will or systemic discrimination? Gender inequality is a complex issue without a clear remedy. But is the solution really so complicated?

At the gym the other day, I was mid-stride on the treadmill when I glanced down at the heart rate monitor on the screen: I could walk for days I realized, but unless I boosted my heart rate sufficiently, my time would be largely wasted. Intensity counts. We all know the math to get fit: reduce calories and increase exercise. But most of us are unwilling to break a sweat or cut out cake. Instead, we’re in perpetual search of a quick fix, fad diet or shortcut.

The corporate world is also looking for a magic pill to fix the lack of women in leadership, but there isn’t one. We know what it will take to achieve gender balance: eliminate the outright bias in hiring and promoting women. Yet, of all Fortune 500 CEOs, only 24 — five percent — are women. The number of women in executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies (14.6%) hasn’t changed in four years. Mercer, an HR and financial services consulting company, predicts that only a third of executive positions worldwide will be held by women 10 years from now. Despite many corporations claiming to be committed to gender equality, few companies are doing the hard work to actually solve the problem.

Corporate silver bullets range from hiring quotas and onsite childcare facilities to mentoring and training programs for women. But these initiatives haven’t made a dent in companies’ gender parity problems. Why? Because just like becoming heart-healthy, intensity matters. Only deeper, longer-term, more committed programs will work to change the gender balance — not quick fixes.

So what does a real solution to fixing gender imbalance look like? Like a fitness program, it starts and ends with honesty. Scales and heart rate monitors don’t lie; they tell you if your fitness plan is working or not . To fix gender inequality, companies must start by doing an honest assessment of how many women they have in leadership roles, and then put a program in place to meet quantifiable metrics by a certain date. Promise to have 50% women in board director and C-level positions within four years. And then publish your results online for everyone to see. Anything less than this level of commitment is not going to produce real results.

Make sure to track extensive data about gender parity. How many women are represented at different levels of seniority? Are male and female compensation levels equal? What is the attrition rate of female leaders? Then measure this data against the rate of change in gender balance over time. Data will show whether your programs are working.

Several high-profile tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, are taking steps to measure and disclose the number of women they have in leadership. Most of the data is pretty dismal, with women comprising about 30% of the workforce, and an even smaller percentage in upper management – but it’s a step in the right direction. Once companies come clean, they can take the even harder step of announcing a concrete plan to fix gender imbalance. (Admitting you need to lose 25 pounds is just the first baby step in a fitness plan; the real work comes over the next six months when you commit to counting calories and regular exercise.)

Just as a fitness program will fail if you never step on the scale, only jog once a week and continue to scarf chips, a gender balance program won’t work if a company takes half measures.  Offering young women the chance to freeze their eggs or take lean-in seminars are nice benefits, but they aren’t going to fix the systemic gender bias that exists in the highest ranks of corporate America. That will only happen when companies get brutally honest about actual numbers, publish the results for everyone to see, and then implement data-driven, measurable plans to change the status quo.

This article is a re-post.  The original article appeared on Forbes.com.

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