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Lead Your Team Women in Business

How More Women Can Rise to the Top

How More Women Can Rise to the Top
Credit: Nivens/Shutterstock

Despite the well-intentioned efforts by many organizations to increase gender diversity at the highest levels, businesses still have a long way to go get there, new research finds.

At the current rate, women will hold just over one-fourth of the executive positions in the United States and Canada by 2024, according to a study from the professional services firm Mercer.

In the United States and Canada, the number of women at the highest ranks is on track to remain nearly the same over the next 10 years. The study predicts that women will hold 26 percent of executive roles 10 years from now, up from just 24 percent today.

The research shows that although they make up 41 percent of the workforce globally, women's highest representation among all career levels is in support-staff roles. Overall, women comprise just 26 percent of senior managers and 19 percent of executives.

"While the diversity efforts of the past several decades have resulted in some improvements in women's participation rates and career trajectories, our research shows that we're still decades away from true gender equality, if we keep doing what we're doing," Pat Milligan, president of Mercer's North America Region, said in a statement. "It's time to act differently to realize the benefit of their full participation and address the unique needs of female employees."

Employers that focus on holistic solutions to build gender diversity are most successful, according to the study. [Fair Pay Top Issue Facing Working Women ]

"Organizations applying predictive analytics to link specific programs and talent strategies to the advancement, engagement and retention of women are most effective," said Brian Levine, innovation leader for Mercer's North America Workforce Strategy & Analytics consulting business.

The research shows that one key to successfully increasing gender diversity is having senior leaders involved in the process. When senior company leaders take an active role in gender diversity efforts, it leads to greater, accelerated representation of women in executive roles.

However, senior executives took on such roles in just 56 percent of the businesses surveyed.

Businesses can also improve their gender diversity efforts by having a dedicated team responsible for pay equity. Simply having common policies, those designed to ensure equity through flexible work schedules and leave programs, results in a slower improvement in the number of women in leadership positions compared to putting dedicated pay-equity teams in place.

Nontraditional solutions to gender diversity can also improve an organization's long-term ability to engage and retain female talent. The study points to the example of offering retirement programs with greater diversity. These types of programs, which include monitoring savings by gender, providing investment training customized to different gender realities and offering gender-specific health education campaigns, correlate with greater representation of women at senior levels.

"Clearly, companies can do better in addressing and progressing gender equality in the workplace and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse workforce," Milligan said. "Given the size of the untapped female workforce, greater participation of women has major implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations, as well as business outcomes and performance.”

The research analyzed workforce data for more than 1.7 million employees, including more than 680,000 women, in 28 countries.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.