Women in leadership: are we doing enough?

An ongoing challenge for many organisations is increasing gender diversity in leadership positions. Kiwis like to think they're ahead of the pack in empowering women. However, despite strong evidence showing the benefits of having women in senior roles, women are still under-represented on boards. They make up less than 10 per cent of board positions in the top 100 companies.

Research has shown that organisations with more women on their boards outperform their competitors, with a 42 per cent higher return on sales, 66 per cent higher return on invested capital, and 53 per cent higher return on equity. But it's not just about financial returns. Gender diversity at board level enables a company to better reflect the needs of a diverse customer base. So what's holding organisations back from embracing genuine equality at all levels?

During a diversity webinar hosted by Kelly Bennion, senior consultant from Kenexa NZ, and Peta Steele, head of Kenexa's Diversity and Inclusion division in Europe, 12 behaviours were identified as being most beneficial to leaders in modern organisations. Women were found to significantly outperform men against many of these behaviours, including their ability to problem-solve, understand, and empathise with others. But men outperformed women against behaviours such as inspiring and influencing others, which is traditionally associated with leadership.

Dr Ines Wichert, who researches the issue of women in leadership for Kenexa's High Performance Institute, also believes that women should be encouraged to take the initiative and develop the behaviours needed to succeed. These behaviours include networking and sharing personal successes - two areas in which men tend to be more effective.

Though women must work to enhance their own skills, organisations can help by providing a more supportive work-life culture, objective assessment processes, and acknowledgement of any bias and gender stereotypes. We may not see dramatic change overnight, but we should be asking if we're really doing enough to make the necessary change.

The Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey is run in association with the Herald and supported by KiwiBank and the Department of Labour. The survey is closed for 2012 and announcements regarding finalists will be made over the next month. Call Kenexa NZ for more information (09) 378 2003. On the web: www.bestworkplaces.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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