· Features

CEOs experiencing ‘driver fatigue’ when it comes to gender

CEOs personally championing change feel frustrated by stubborn pockets of gender inequality in their businesses

It can be lonely at the top, and never more so than when it comes to tackling gender diversity. These are the headline findings of a recent study by the Cracking the Code team, a collaboration between KPMG, Why Women Work, YSC, and the 30% Club.

The team’s researchers interviewed CEOs and CHROs of global companies about their gender diversity strategies, achievements and challenges. The findings highlighted the importance of data, authenticity and accountability when creating a culture of inclusion in a business.

The team also found evidence of ‘driver fatigue’; where CEOs personally championing change feel frustrated by stubborn pockets of gender inequality in certain areas of the business that remain hard to shift. Such potential imbalance can be looked at in more detail than ever before thanks to technology and data analytics. For the first time a global leader can really track their inclusion policies without it becoming an all-consuming task.

Using the data from their business it is now possible for CEOs to challenge such behaviour and push for change. However, statistics alone will not shift the current plateau. Authentic leadership was cited as key. It’s no longer about a leader sharing anecdotes of personal connections with family or friends, it is the embodiment of the organisation’s purpose and cultural legacy that the CEO shares that is crucial.

Putting gender, or even better inclusion, at the heart of their leadership mission can be seen as far more engaging, particularly if the anecdotes they share refer to changes that the senior executives are making within the organisation.

The third area highlighted as vital was responsibility and accountability. A group who often believes gender is an issue that doesn’t affect them is male managers. Still too much reliance is put on female leaders and women’s networks to lead the charge on gender diversity, yet why should it be down to them alone? Managers have just as big a part to play, and with good counsel can address the issue and make a difference as they manage, recruit and promote their teams.

There are practical steps leaders can take to build the business case for gender diversity and encourage their management teams to play a more active role in driving cultural change. Five key steps identified by the CEOs we spoke to are:

  • Quantify the impact gender diversity has on commercial performance and use this to sell the case for greater progress to reluctant managers;
  • Tackle pockets of stubborn historical gender imbalance and target business units where women are clearly underrepresented;
  • Help male managers feel comfortable and confident talking about the gender mix;
  • Firmly and publicly engage with male colleagues to deal with logjams by providing visible support to female colleagues. It must become the norm to intervene when male and female colleagues are treated inconsistently;
  • Track which male leaders are really developing female talent. Buddy those who are struggling with successful female senior executives to help their thinking.

Ingrid Waterfield is director in KPGM’s People Powered Performance team