Even as the debate about gender diversity in the workplace continues to be a hot topic, the dearth of women in senior management and executive level positions in companies around the world cannot be denied. The McKinsey Quarterly Report for November 2012 reveals that in the United States, only 15 percent of women sat on corporate boards last year. In Europe, the numbers are higher, with France, Sweden, and Norway registering 20 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent of women on boards.
In many companies, the barriers to advancement are entrenched within the organization itself. Joanna Barsh, Sandrine Devillard, and Jin Wang, authors of the McKinsey report found that women lack the “sorts of networks that come more easily to men” and as a result, they “miss out on discussions with sponsors who might encourage them to stay in the line.” In their analysis, they find that having CEOs who actually show to the rest of the team that they are actively involved in discussions that promote gender diversity in the workplace and handpicking women for top posts have an impact if a company wants to have more female leaders.
“Sponsorship is (and always has been) a critical part of an executive’s path to the top,” the authors write, and although institutionalizing these efforts are not that easy or even a hundred percent successful, they find “one company did much better when the CEO and the diversity leader personally took charge of the sponsorship program, selected a group of high-potential women, and invited them to spend significant time with the top team.” Even women who have reached middle management positions in 60 large companies in the United States highlight “early career acceleration coupled with significant sponsorship” as one of the reasons for their success, cites the report.
Studies have shown the immense benefits that women bring to teams and companies. And establishing a culture of sponsorship within the organization is a major action that committed leaders can do to help ensure that their skills and leadership potentials are utilized and further developed.