Mentoring programs for women? Try pushing executive accountability instead

Mentoring programs for women? Try pushing executive accountability instead

Executive accountability matters more than mentoring.

When it comes to the key drivers of gender diversity in workplaces, mentoring programs and confidence seminars aimed at women don’t make the top five.

Nor do other initiatives pushing to address perceived shortfalls in the capabilities of women top the list.

Rather, the real change comes when organisations commit to addressing the structural barriers that continue to be in place for women to get hired, promoted, paid what they’re worth and able to pursue career success.

The real change comes when companies commit to workplace policies that actually enable women (and men) to pursue flexible careers. And it comes when commitments are made and accountability put in place — on the executives, the recruiters, and those managing talent — to actually make those commitments happen.

Change comes also with women being sponsored, instead of just mentored. Especially when you consider Harvard Business Review findings that women are half as likely to have a sponsor as their male peers.

New research out today by Chief Executive Women and Bain & Company has analysed the top five most common success factors at 22 Australian companies identified as leading the way for executive gender balance. The research comes after 2021 data found a direct link between the best-performing companies on the ASX and gender-balanced executive leadership teams.

So what are the five accelerators? As the report notes, they include:

  1. Committed and accountable executives — build executive commitment to and accountability for balanced leadership through regular scorecard reviews and by linking compensation to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) targets.
  2. Action-oriented commitments – translate commitment to diverse leadership into actions, such as executive role modeling, equitable flexibility options, and empowering employee groups.
  3. Targeted talent management – accelerate women into leadership through targeted talent management, development programs and sponsorship.
  4. Deliberate and long-term succession planning – make deliberate, long-term succession plans to build a gender-balanced pipeline.
  5. Equitable recruitment – create an equitable recruiting process for senior-level positions and redefine leadership requirements to broaden the talent pool.

On releasing the research, CEW President Sam Mostyn AO said that knowing how gender-balanced leadership teams contribute to better decision-making and ultimately higher profitability means that, “now is the time to accelerate actions for achieving gender-balanced leadership teams.”

Interviewing the 22 employers to identify what works, Bain Partner Agathe Gross said that while most applied the same five initiatives, they did it in different ways to suit the needs of their businesses.

“The research also demonstrated that progress can be made despite disruption such as the COVID-19 pandemic and restructuring. We saw that the companies may have adapted their plans along the way, but having a plan that looked at all teams and levels of the organisation was critical to making change happen,” she said.

Companies interviewed in the research included ANZ, Mirvac, Telstra, Deloitte, Mercer, QBE and LendLease, with the report going into some specific initiatives pursued by employers that can be directly linked to a shift in numbers.

At KPMG for example, a program matching women to executive-level sponsors has seen 42 per cent of those participating women promoted into more senior roles, with 25 becoming partners.

Meanwhile, with flexible work being a key accelerator identified, the report highlighted specific initiatives designed to support team members in working flexibly. At SEEK, the employer has pushed to make annual performance reviews including pay and promotion reviews more inclusive to those working part time or flexibly, as well as those who’ve taken parental leave or other extended leave.

On the recruiting piece, employer Starpharma has a “no ego” requirement, which sees them involving leaders from different teams in the interviewing process, and aiming to help the company get diverse perspectives on potential employees.

On building executive accountability, the report authors state that: “Gender balance is an organisational mindset, not an HR program. For inclusion to become a fundamental part of the workforce culture, the entire executive team must support gender-balancing priorities…. embedded in everyday behaviours, processes, business practices, and communication.”

Read the full report here.

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