Sucheta Dalal :Women Get to the Top of Firms Run by Women Says LBS Report
Sucheta Dalal

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Women Get to the Top of Firms Run by Women, Says LBS Report  

May 27, 2007

Women are unlikely to thrive in organisations where fewer than 30% of the senior executives are not already females, according to a study to be published today.

    The researchers at the London Business School argue that there is merit in introducing targets to ensure the progress of women up the managerial ladder after finding that companies with female chief executives were more likely to enlist women in crucial projects.

    "This suggests that executives must take cognition of the fact that when the proportion of women in senior positions is less than critical mass (generally considered to be 30%) then the culture and the practices of the organisation are unlikely to create a strong pipeline for women," the authors from the LBS centre for women in business said.

    The researchers, led by Professor Lynda Gratton, conclude: "We recommend that executives address this issue of the tipping point as a matter of urgency."

    They also recommend that companies address the gender imbalance by requiring headhunters to field female candidates and that half of all executive selection panels are women.

    The study is based on the practices of 61 organisations in 12 European countries ranging from car companies to utilities. It recommends that executives at the top of organisations create initiatives to foster the promotion of women. It also suggests that management teams should "build and open the leadership experience pipeline to prepare women for senior roles.

    "This will involve, for example, ensuring access to internal and external networks as well as internal training and development," the researchers said.

    Their study also calls for women to be exposed to "crucial leadership development activities" so companies have a "continuous focus" on leadership development for women.

    The research identifies what it describes as "four waves of intervention". The first is measurement and reporting of gender diversity such as recruitment and salary differences, which then become the basis for targets in some organisations. The second is to enable women to be wives, mothers and carers with 90% of companies offering flexible working options but nearly half of the companies admitting that fewer than 10% of women managers work flexibly. The third is about creating "supportive networks" that help to mentor and coach women.

    The final wave is about preparing women to be leaders. "Leadership research over the last decade has shown that those who get the top of the organisations typically have experience in leading business critical projects," the researchers said. But during their research they found that women had a "very low" participation in any leadership activities. They point to one company, Volvo, where this was not the case: the car company asked a female-only team to design and build a car that would appeal to women.

By Jill Treanor
The Guardian UK

-- Sucheta Dalal