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“How Today’s Companies Can Encourage More Diversity in the Workplace” by Dr. Sasha Galbraith
DiversityBusiness.com Article/- With recent reports showing women are still underrepresented in business leadership positions, it’s obvious there’s been little to no progress in the boardroom and the executive suite. In fact, women only make up 13.5 percent of executive officer positions, which is defined as people appointed or elected by the Board of Directors, including the CEO and two levels below. At the board level, women are doing slightly better, occupying 15.2 percent of seats. Most companies (90%) have a token woman on their board, but only one in five companies have at least three female board members.

Why the low numbers? Don’t these companies know that putting more women in senior management can often mean better decisions, higher profits, stronger share price, more prudent risk taking and a well-rounded, thoughtful and effective management team?

Apparently not. There seems to be a mirror theory at work again. For example, most board seats and senior executive positions tend to be filled with Caucasian men who often like to work with people who look like them, act like them and share the same values that they do. Subtle biases and stereotypes are clearly at work here. Many studies have demonstrated these biases, but one study in particular found that female leaders had to be perceived as both strong and sensitive to be considered effective. Male leaders only had to be perceived as strong.

Another issue that’s worth exploring is the case of the “token” female leaders. When a woman makes it to a leadership position, she is usually a “token” (i.e. a numerical minority representing 15 percent or less of the total number in a group). Tokens are constantly thrust into stereotypical roles and can feel more pressure to conform to the business environment. Tokens are also more isolated, have fewer opportunities to be sponsored and can face misperceptions of their identity. At the same time, those members of the dominant group tend to maintain boundaries, exaggerating group differences.

This suggests high-level women managers often do not actively promote or encourage other women fearing competition from them. So the fact that you’re a highly capable manager and leader, might become obscured by all the other organizational politics you might be forced deal with in order to get your job done.

How can this complex problem be fixed?

There are a number of solutions. For companies to get started in the right direction – here’s a list of tips for increasing diversity in the workplace:

  • Fill the pipeline.
  • Make the business case for diversity.
  • Root out bias and subtle stereotypes from the hiring and appraisal process, as well as in the organization’s culture.
  • Sponsor group training and problem solving event.
  • Expand the pool of talent from which your organization recruits.
  • Remove the barriers to success.
In sum, the real impetus to get more women to senior levels has to come from the very men who are subconsciously holding them back. It takes a very courageous and self-assured man to promote strong and effective women into senior management roles. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take 70 more years to find those men.

“The Strong, Sensitive Type: Effects of Gender Stereotypes and Leadership Prototypes on the Evaluation of Male and Female Leaders.” S.K. Johnson, S.E. Murphy, S. Zewdie and R.J. Reichard. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 106, Issue 1, May 2008, pp. 39-60.

About DiversityBusiness.com
Launched in 1999, DiversityBusiness, with over 50,000 members, is the largest organization of diversity owned businesses throughout the United States that provide goods and services to Fortune 1000 companies, government agencies, and colleges and universities. DiversityBusiness provides research and data collection services for diversity including the "Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities", "Top 500 Diversity Owned Companies in America", and others. Its research has been recognized and published by Forbes Magazine, Business Week and thousands of other print and internet publications. The site has gained national recognition and has won numerous awards for its content and design. DiversityBusiness reaches more diverse suppliers and communicates more information to them on a more frequent basis then all other organizations combined. We also communicate with mainstream businesses, government agencies and educational institutions with information related to diversity. Our magazine reaches over 300,000 readers, a monthly e-newsletter that reaches 2.4 million, and website visitors of 1.2 million a month. It is a leading provider of Supplier Diversity management tools and has the most widely distributed Diversity magazine in the United States. DiversityBusiness.com is produced by Computer Consulting Associates International Inc. (CCAii.com) of Southport, CT. Founded in 1980.

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