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Women at the leadership table

You can't have the best workforce if it's not a diverse organisation. The only way to achieve that is to make sure recruitment and retention processes encourage women.

I’ve heard Kimberly-Clark’s CEO Tom Falk share this provocative observation about recruiting diverse talent: “You and I are going to pick an all-star team from the people in this room. I only get to pick from these 50 people on the left side, and you get to pick from the whole room. Who will have a better team?”

It’s a simple example that shows the value of cultivating a diverse talent pool – you can’t have the best team if you’re only recruiting from half the field, excluding the others either through subconscious or systemic bias.

Most of us believe that a more diverse and engaged workforce will achieve better business results. Yet organisations focus their time on other financial or business priorities, and then work on diversity and inclusion with the time that’s left over. At Kimberly-Clark, we’ve made diversity and inclusion essential priorities, not leftovers.

In our business, we understand that women are directly responsible for about 80% of purchase decisions for our consumer products, yet the leaders for these brands were predominantly male. Does it make sense having only men in board-level discussions about feminine hygiene products? If women are in shops making the purchase decisions, shouldn’t a female voice and perspective be represented in business decisions?

Achieving a talent pipeline that’s more balanced with women ultimately became more about getting top talent to drive the best business results, not about statistics.

So we started an initiative to hire more women, promote more women, and do more to retain them in the leadership ranks. We called the approach ‘Unleash Your Power’. The goal was simple: build a diverse and inclusive organisation that looks, thinks and behaves like the consumers who purchase and use our products in their daily lives.

At our sites around the world, Unleash Your Power substantially changed the working environment for women like me: global networking forums, new policies facilitating work-life flexibility, action plans for recruiting, developing, and retaining talented women, and many other examples. 

In the EMEA team we identified women and men with potential for growth, assigned them key business problems to accelerate their development, and gave them opportunities to work alongside executive leaders. I think of it as taking a risk on emerging talent. We turned the traditional career path on its head because that approach wasn’t lifting talented women and men fast enough to grow our business.

Globally, Unleash Your Power has delivered significant results in the past four years. Women in director-level positions or higher increased 71% globally, and internal promotions of women to ‘director-plus’ jobs have increased significantly, from 19% to 44%.

Kimberly-Clark is one of two companies to win this year’s Catalyst Award from Catalyst, the non-profit committed to advancing opportunities for women and business. This represents an important milestone in our journey to make our business the very best place for talented women and men to grow their careers.

My goal is to carry on doing my part to see more women at the leadership table, whose perspectives are sought and valued in the decision-making process.

Donna McPherson is VP EMEA at Kimberly-Clark Professional