Where are all the women?

Studies are continuing to find greater numbers of women “disappearing” at each successive level of most corporations.

In our November leadership blog we ask the question….”What can women can learn from men’s networking habits and how, when leveraged alongside their key strengths, can it provide all the benefits of diversity and a path forward for women towards more balanced leadership representation?” With thanks to Karine Halimi-Guez, Managing Director Tax at FedEx Express for sharing her thoughts on the topic.

“The disappearing women problem”

Within the tax profession, it’s all about the figures, and the figures regularly point to the value of gender diversity in improving productivity and financial performance.

The numerous reports released over the years (and their findings) “are well-thumbed”. McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their industry counterparts. Meanwhile, research from MIT Sloan School of Management found that teams with more women perform better and have more collective intelligence.

Yet, here we are in 2021, seeing the same trends that were evident in 2016: “women are promoted to manager at far lower rates than men, and this makes it nearly impossible for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels,” said McKinsey in its latest Women in the Workplace report.

Having recalled a 2018 white-paper written by Spencer Stuart titled Solving the Disappearing Women Problem”, I believe many of the insights shared remain true today.

The white-paper touches on the differences in the way that men and women conduct themselves when networking, which we all know is a key ingredient to successful leadership.

More generally, I believe that by raising awareness of what matters in the professional world (building your brand, finding the right balance between risk and prudence, etc.), women can achieve success their own way, leveraging what they are naturally good at and thus defying some of the well-known clichés:

Women are more conservative (cliché)

It’s been demonstrated that executive women achieve a better balance when it comes to prudence and risk, thus achieving superior returns, however, when it comes to searching for a new position, adopt a ‘go for it’ mentality – take more risks. Where women feel like they have to tick every box to apply for a position, men will go for it even if they don’t match all the requirements. More openness to change can help you take steps vital to your career growth.

Women fall short on self-promotion (cliché )

Know your worth but aim to achieve a balance between confidence and humility, once achieved you’re on track to reap the rewards; increased learning, empowerment, approachability to name a few. It’s important to be more vocal about your career aspirations so your remain front of mind, whilst also self-promote other qualified women who will help create a coalition that will undoubtedly lead to the favour being returned down the line.

Strategic networking is more challenging for women (cliché)

Operational, personal, and strategic networks all play a vital role in helping you achieve your goals. Hitting all three is tough so ultimately you must find a balance that makes sense to you; do not look for an immediate return. Look for how you can provide value around you, in particular with consultants within the key search firms who can become an ally and can help you learn about avenues of advancement even when you’re not ready for a move. Connecting with other women in similar positions can also be very helpful and reassuring.

Wonder woman syndrome (cliché)

Ditch the costume, but hold onto your superpowers. Focus on your unique abilities, the competencies which make your great, delegate appropriately and don’t be afraid to ask for help, make use of informal support mechanisms.

“I would say that, when it comes to gender, it takes three (and not two) to tango. (1) Men can become allies and realise that a more gender-balanced leadership is beneficial to all through a more inclusive work environment (2) Women should fight against their own biases, and realise they can succeed while still being themselves and (3) corporations must lead the change through gender neutralisation of processes and an active building of balanced leadership pipeline working in partnership with search firms who truly believe in change and the clear benefits of achieving this”.

Karine Halimi-Guez | MD Tax & Global Tax Integration Lead | FedEx Express

Organisations have to recognise that women face a rougher road to leadership than men – as the pandemic has proved. The Women in Workplace 2021 report revealed that women are now significantly more burned out – and increasingly more so than men.

Undoubtedly, it’s on organisations to do more to promote gender diversity – and whilst I’m by no means suggesting the male approach to leadership is the alpha and omega of success, there are certain traits which, when leveraged alongside women’s key strengths, provide all the benefits of diversity and a path forward for women towards more balanced leadership representation.

For progress to be sustained at senior levels, women, men and employers need to be pushing in the same direction. That’s why for the month of December our leadership blog will look to reverse this focus: what men can do to promote a more gender-balanced leadership and why it is in their best interest.



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