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CEOs urged to be more sincere about gender equality

CEOs must articulate personal reasons for backing gender parity in the workplace if they really want to encourage more women in to top roles, research has suggested.

A report published by KPMG and King’s College London argues company leaders must talk from their heart as well as their heads about the importance of gender for economic development, and avoid impersonal business and social arguments for change.

Researchers interviewed 15 male and five female CEOs, 15 of who had pronounced an interest in gender equality by having signed up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles - an initiative created by UN Women and the UN Global Compact.

The results suggested many CEOs downplay their personal motivations for diversity, talking instead about commercial and business benefits.

But researchers concluded the CEOs who gave personal examples were more convincing. One example was a CEO who described how he realised the importance of gender when a junior woman in a meeting asked him to put himself into her shoes.

A spokesman from the Institute of Directors backed the suggestions made by the research. “The business community knows that progress is being made much too slowly on increasing gender diversity among senior staff,” he said.

“This report provides some interesting solutions by emphasising that real cultural change can only come from inside an organisation, rather than from the outside through the blunt tool of board gender quotas.”

The report’s author Elisabeth Kelan, reader at the King’s College London’s Department of Management, said the current generation of CEOs had “an opportunity to chart new territory in making progress on this issue and they need to understand the power of doing things with words”.

UK KPMG chairman Simon Collins agreed CEOs needed to do something to change their behaviour. “This research makes it clear that the 'something' is how we as CEOs talk and act,” he said.

“Starting with ourselves gives our businesses – and the women in our workforces– the best possible chance of the legacy on gender diversity that as CEOs we say we want to leave, and that they so richly deserve.”

In related news, a survey of more than 200 global business executives conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit found 83% believed a diverse workforce improves their company’s ability to capture and retain a diverse client base.

Two-fifths (80%) of respondents also said effective diversity management yielded a competitive advantage in labour markets.