What women can do to make themselves more visible
Nick Marsh, Managing Director, Harvey Nash Executive Search APAC
Progress is being made to achieve boardroom gender balance with many enterprises starting to recognize the importance and value of board diversity. Unfortunately (as we have recognized in previous articles on this topic - "Women on boards - why is progress so slow in Asia?") many business leaders still have the following complaint: 'I'd love to have a more diverse board but I just can't find the talent to fill positions. Where are all these great women you speak of?'
Whilst we all acknowledge there is without doubt a shortage of women in the mid and upper ranks of companies, a good pool of board-ready women does exist, certainly enough to move the needle of boardroom diversity worldwide. As we inform our clients, the existing talent pool, covering all geographies and industries, is comprised of a broad range of sources, as many companies and organisations are making it their mission to identify and promote top female talent. This includes initiatives to cultivate home grown talent, such as the alumni from the Women's Directorship Programme, Harvey Nash's joint venture with The University of Hong Kong, 30 per cent of whom have already achieved board positions.
We see change at the boardroom level being activated through three communities:
1) Women - how they position themselves for success
2) The business community - the methods companies use for attracting, hiring and retaining top talent
3) Governments and not for profit organisations - that serve to campaign for change
These three communities form what we describe as 'the diversity triangle' and we need to work together to bridge the existing talent gap and the board level and speed up the pace of change.
As explored in the second article in this series ("Why does diversity matter for companies?") the business community can take steps to encourage positive change in corporate cultures, and governments/supporting organisations can play a major role in driving this change, but we must never overlook the crucial (and arguably, central) role women themselves play in driving change.
Women need to take responsibility and be proactive by making themselves more visible for potential opportunities. The power of role models is often discussed, so those women already at the top of corporations need to champion others in the workplace to effectively manage the female talent pipeline.
Based on the feedback from business leaders and participants involved in the Women's Directorship Programme, we have identified five keys to ensuring success in a woman's career; coaching, mentoring, sponsorship, networking and training:
• Coaching - enables women to focus on and work toward a professional goal while developing the skills required for it
• Mentoring - helps women to build confidence, learn from others, gain insights and build important relationships
• Sponsorship - from either a senior-ranking external or internal party, helps women to advance by making sure they are visible and considered for career-advancing assignments. Research from Harvard Business Review and the Centre for Work-Life Policy entitled The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling shows a sponsor can benefit a career by between 22-30% - a value that women often underestimate
• Networking - essential for taking the next step in any career, the principles of building relationships and networking are core to acceleration through the corporate hierarchy. This can take the form of exploring online meet-ups, industry networking groups and professional organsations, as well as professional and personal contacts
• Training and continuous learning is an essential ingredient for success
There is clearly much to be done, but we must all be encouraged by the fact progress is being made, albeit slowly. The global business community, women, and the government need to accept that diversity is an issue that needs to be addressed and work towards solving the issue together.