Clinton's loss: Lessons on women and leadership

Hillary Clinton's defeat is common in the workplace: women lose out simply because they are women

Hillary Clinton’s race for the presidency suffered because she is a woman. It’s not the only reason she lost, but it didn’t help. She kept her head down and campaigned tirelessly but few people rewarded her for focusing on issues, projecting instead on her personality.

This story is common throughout many organisations. According to our research men in management are 40% more likely to be promoted than their female counterparts, and only 8% of managers say their organisation has gender diversity targets. This is not just a reflection on men; it’s endemic in unhealthy leadership cultures both in the US and here in the UK. It wasn’t just men who voted for Trump, millions of women did too.

The US election shows that men and women find it hard to rid themselves of power and gender stereotypes, and the concern here for business is that the result will help perpetuate the gender pay gap. According to the Fawcett Society that gap stands at 13.5%, but as our research shows this rises to 23% for women in middle management and leadership roles.

Addressing issues like unconscious bias, and inspiring emerging leaders and nurturing female talent in the middle is critical to closing this gender pay gap. While women outnumber men at junior levels not enough make it through to the top.

There are more than half a million ‘missing’ women from management. This means if the current number of management jobs was shared equally by men and women there would be an additional 513,000 female managers.

Rather than risk being branded aggressive and pushy, most women simply put up and shut up and hope that they will somehow get promoted through their hard work and sheer competence. But they shouldn't hold their breath, because that rarely happens.

One excuse that regularly rears its head to explain unequal levels of pay is the ‘motherhood penalty’ - mums taking a break from the office and returning part time. That idea doesn’t wash when we see that unequal pay affects all women. A good example of this is the expectation that a woman aged 30 to 40 already has or will soon be having children, and therefore shouldn’t be put forward for a role involving extensive foreign travel.

Employers have a big role to play in changing workplace culture, but they need to recognise it as a problem. Men must be agents for change too and create the conditions for transforming businesses. This issue cannot be resolved by women alone.

In November 2016 we’re launching our CMI Women campaign with the aim of a 50/50 share of management roles between men and women by 2024. To do this we need 1.5 million new female managers over this period, compared with 430,000 new male managers.

It’s not just about diversity for diversity’s sake. Strong management and leadership is key to creating improved productivity, and if leaders want to help their organisations unlock value in the workforce they must turn to women to shoulder half of this responsibility. Recent research shows how much value employers are losing out on by not creating a gender balanced workforce, with a UBS report estimating that closing the gender pay gap would add $12 trillion to the global economy.

Let’s hope businesses can lead the way in addressing this imbalance and that when the next female candidate runs for president she won’t face the same barriers Hillary Clinton did.

Ann Francke is CEO of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)