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Pipeline for Women in Leadership Hollows Out in the Middle

March 1 2023 - A study of 2,500 executives, managers, and professionals in 12 countries and 10 industries conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and campaigning organization Chief in cooperation with Oxford Economics shows that the pipeline for top women leaers has hollowed out.

The study included an equal number of women and men and compared results with similar surveys conducted in 2021 and 2019. The study "Women in leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline - and what to do about it." found:

  • A small increase in women at C-suite and Board level to 12% representation
  • An increase to 40% representation of women in junior professional/specialist roles compared to 37% in 2021
  • A reduced pipeline for top leadership positions compared to pre-pandemic levels - 14% representation of women in senior vice president roles against 18% in 2019 and 16% in vice president roles against 19% in 2019

Additionally, just 45% of organizations reported making advancement of more women into leadership roles a top, formal business priority.

Lindsay Kaplan, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Chief said:

"While we're pleased to see slight progress in the representation of women at the C-suite and Board levels, it's imperative that companies do more to fill the pipeline that leads to these powerful positions. Women are significantly underrepresented at nearly every level of the workforce. If companies prioritize gender diversity across their entire organizations through policies, investments, and a culture that meaningfully supports women, we'll see a transformative impact - equity for everyone in the workplace and stronger, more resilient businesses."

Kelly Chambliss, Senior Vice President and COO, IBM Consulting commented:

"Enabling equity and inclusion gives organizations a competitive edge, yet many companies do not act as if their success depends on it. To thrive in a rapidly changing world, organizations must prioritize advancing women - and all historically under-represented groups - and take action to challenge structural barriers and unconscious bias."

Salima Lin, Sr. Partner and Vice President of Strategy, Transformation and Thought Leadership, IBM Consulting concluded:

"The research data shows the hollowing out in the middle is real. Structural changes, including reimagining leadership tracks and role descriptions, improving pay transparency, and setting representation goals, can open new pathways for women to progress to more senior roles."

The study highlights positive actions such as:

  • Reframing women's leadership advancement in the language of business results e.g. quantifying concrete economic gains that can come from righting gender imbalances.
  • Giving strategy teeth, for example, putting specific directives and measures behind the organization's action plan, such as setting measurable goals for women's advancement.
  • Enacting an action plan to drive gender equity across the full leadership pipeline, e.g. going further than awareness training to "using experiential learning techniques like role playing and reverse mentoring to help shift biases."
  • Re-designing senior roles that work for top talent, such as, limiting hiring criteria to a core set of gender-neutral requirements.

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