When It Comes to Women's Leadership, Talk Continues But Action Remains Stalled at World Economic Forum in Davos

It was a familiar scene in Davos Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum took place in January: many men around the table and relatively few women. (Women represented only 18 percent of total delegates.)

What was a bit different, though, was the focus on the increasingly urgent need to achieve gender parity in organizations worldwide. CNBC reported that not only was the corporate gender gap among the top three hot topics discussed by the delegation, but the subject was also recognized as one of the most tweetable, generating 10,000 tweets during the conference.

With the idea behind gender-balanced leadership--which I call Integrated Leadership-- receiving growing support internationally and more men on board about the benefits of gender diversity at the top ranks, we need to keep the momentum going by taking action through tangible solutions. Dialogue is useful but only to a certain point--it's time to get off the dime and convert these good intentions into reality.

Here are a few things that individuals and companies can do to help bring Integrated Leadership to their organizations sooner rather than later:

  • Leverage the power of men. When it comes to inclusiveness, men are in a prime position to help influence a company's culture for the better. One reason is that having a higher percentage of men in the leadership ranks enables them to play a significant role in advancing women into leadership. In fact, some studies indicate that 20 percent of men in organizations are ready and willing to support or champion the development and advancement of their female colleagues into leadership roles--we just need to ask them and invite them to be part of the solution. To that end, women can invite and coach men to become male allies, sponsors, and mentors. Organizations can provide men with the tools and training they need to better understand their unintentional biases that hold women back in talent reviews and keep them from advancement opportunities. While we all as human beings have biases, it is important for men to address their own biases with intention and take a more inclusive approach toward leadership. If not, they may inadvertently hold women back from promotional/growth opportunities or discourage women from speaking up to share their views and leadership attributes.

  • Make it your business. To go beyond lip service to women's advancement, it's important to create a compelling business case that is woven into the organization's growth strategy. Ensure that your business case permeates at every level of the organization, is less corporate-centric, and aligns with the global marketplace and demographics/consumers. Remember that if Integrated Leadership does not become part of your business strategy, it will be viewed as just another program and will fail to gain the attention and focus that's needed to make it successful.
  • Proactively focus on your pipeline. It's not a sustainable long-term solution to always bring female talent in from the outside. Organizations need to build their female leaders from within to create a full pipeline of women candidates for senior leadership and executive roles. Prioritize providing your high-potential women with the right coaching and career guidance, while systematizing proactive career discussions and opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship. Provide your top female talent with targeted development experiences, and engage them in roles that expose them to the core business while enhancing their business acumen and leadership agility.
  • Reexamine your HR systems and processes. Many companies are still using processes for recruitment, hiring, and other human resource functions that are outdated and misaligned with 21st-century demands, leadership behaviors, demographics, and diversity needs. Ensure that your HR systems are gender-neutral and are designed to facilitate identification, hiring, and advancement of the best male and female talent across a diverse spectrum of leadership attributes.
  • Hold your leaders and managers accountable. We've all heard the adage that what gets measured gets done. So if you want to achieve Integrated Leadership in your organization, you must move beyond talking about it and hold your leadership team accountable for making it happen. To do so, begin by identifying key goals and measurements related to the hiring of diverse talent, talent development and succession, and promotion. Set clear expectations related to each of these areas for all of your current managers and leaders.
  • Bottom line: it's time to move beyond mere window dressing and begin taking action to achieve gender parity. It's the 21st century, and our leaders and organizations need to wake up and start leading in the direction that they say they want to go.