CEB Blogs


Corporate HR

Football Season and a Touchdown for Women in Leadership

More women in senior positions will benefit any firm; four steps will help them get there

Pittsburgh Steelers endzone stadium

Tonight’s first fixture in a new season is the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New England Patriots

Many in the United States are anticipating a familiar smell of beer and pizza on the air again as football season kicks off tonight. Once more, fans will don their favorite jerseys and make their fantasy football picks as summer fades to fall.

But this year, at least one thing is different. The National Football League (NFL), which in the past has been given a “C”-level rating in gender hiring practices according to The 2013 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card (pdf), has begun to hire women to work with the teams. The Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as an inside linebackers preseason coach, the first woman to coach in the NFL game, and Sarah Thomas became the first female full-time on-field official.

Although the NFL may have been slow on the up-take, increasing the representation of women in the workforce is vital to a strong organization in any industry. Women make up more than half of college graduates in the US, and are rated equally to men at leadership competencies. Numerous bits of independent research show that women in leadership roles improve corporate performance:

Why employing women is a good thing

Missing out on women’s talents will put firms at a significant disadvantage. Yet, despite the data, the ratio of men and women in top executive roles is way out of step with the trends in entry-level positions (see chart 1).

Career life cycle along the leadership pipeline

Chart 1: Career life cycle along the leadership pipeline  Current distribution of men and women in organizational roles  Source: CEB analysis

Possibly, the traditional view of female employees is at odds with the traditional view of executive attributes. Neurological research suggests that differences in the male and female brain may explain why men do well in processing information while women shine at incorporating separate pieces of information. Research from Deloitte shows that, when listening to a pitch from an external supplier, men tend to view the meeting as a step in the process while women are more likely to look for ways to collaborate. This makes women excellent at what CEB calls “enterprise contribution” and is the necessary skill for today’s workforce.

Four Steps to Get More Women in Leadership Positions

If companies want to cultivate enterprise contributors among their executive ranks, then they should bring more women into leadership positions. Four steps will help with this.

  1. Address micro-challenges throughout the career life cycle: For better or worse, men and women are associated with various leadership qualities, with men linked more with effective leadership than women.

    By breaking down the labels that are often used to describe women in leadership roles, small challenges for women to climb the corporate ladder will be reduced.

  2. Create visibility into leadership opportunities for women: Whether that is posting open leadership positions on an internal job board or recruiting for leaders at women’s groups, women should have access to applying to leadership opportunities.

  3. Make flexible work schedules the default for all: According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, mothers are providing more child care hours than they did in earlier generations. Women are often vetoed for promotion for positions that require evening hours because they have children at home, which is not the case for men with children.

    Flexible work schedules would provide both men and women equal opportunities for success at higher positions, allowing them to work during the hours that they are most productive.

  4. Create “accelerated on-ramps” to reactivate women who temporarily opt out: If women choose to have a family and need to temporarily stop working, organizations should make it easier for women to resume their positions once they are ready to return.


More On…


Leave a Reply



Recommended For You

Why Performance Management is Failing Your Best Employees

Recent interest in the limitations of performance management systems has caused many senior managers to...