The Gushing Pipeline
There is much talk today about women getting stuck in middle management and falling victim to the "leaky pipeline." But using this term is a disservice to the severity of the problem. It implies first that there is a single path to leadership, and second that minor patchwork will fix the problem. It also implies this is a woman's problem when the issue is much deeper and more systemic.
Women represent almost half of the workforce - 47% to be exact - and yet we only comprise 21% of C-suite positions, less than 10% of venture capital Partner roles and 4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles.* No wonder only 2% of venture funding went to female-led companies last year.** This funding trend perpetuates the female leadership gap because many women left the corporate workplace to develop and lead new companies. Without financial support they cannot add to the net number of women leaders in the market.
Leadership skills can be developed in many venues, and along many paths. Current leaders need to acknowledge the value of a diverse set of experiences and skills to help more women move up to the next levels. Harvard Business Review just published a study that shows that CEOs with more diverse networks create higher value for their firms.*** This comes from exposure to a wide variety of views and experiences. Imagine if that could come from your own team.
The reality is there is a whole system in place that needs to be overhauled thoughtfully, piece by piece, to achieve the many benefits that come from a gender balanced workplace. From how recruiting is done to formal and informal networks; assignment of sponsors and coaches; skill building that is geared to women's specific needs; availability and access to mentors; better family leave for women and men to de-stigmatize the need to take leave; less paternal treatment of women that "protects" them from risky opportunities that can lead to great personal growth; a broader set of promotion opportunities that create multiple paths forward; and accountability at the top to achieve parity in pay, hiring, advancement and leadership.
Women and men need to work together as partners throughout the work ecosystem - corporations, vendors, investors, service providers - to make holistic change. Addressing these issues from the bottom up, in silos and/or as internal women's groups will not move the needle enough. We need today's leadership to say "Enough!," set aggressive goals and hold themselves and their Boards of Directors, management team and partners accountable to deliver them.
Sources: *Paradigm for Parity and Axios "By the numbers: Men still run venture capital," April 3, 2017; **PitchBook; ***Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2018