Tide turning for women in corporate sector
Despite stagnation in the number of senior-level businesswomen worldwide, a recent shift in leadership philosophy bodes well for women amid increasing competition in the global economy, a prominent leadership consultant said.
“The number of women CEOs in very large global companies has, in fact, not grown over the past 10 years,” Kate Sweetman, a renowned consultant and author, told the Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, in a recent interview.
“That being said, I sense through my own encounters with leadership in large organizations that we may be at a tipping point. Boards and CEOs in many unlikely places now see the business case for women, and realize they are falling short.”
Recent studies show that by including sufficient numbers of women in senior positions, firms can gain a competitive edge. The consultant said that by incorporating women at a ratio of at least 25 to 30 percent, firms open the door to greater innovation and, eventually, profit.
“A better balance of male and female approaches appears to deliver better decisions and actions for the business,” she said.
The assessment comes from a woman with her finger directly on the pulse of corporate developments around the world.
Co-author of the hit book ``Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By,’’ Sweetman has some 20 years of experience developing leadership strategies for firms including heavy hitters Goldman Sachs, Novartis and Verizon.
She will travel to Seoul to participate in the 2010 Global Women’s Leadership Conference to be hosted by the Hankook Ilbo on Nov. 29 and 30.
According to the consultant, the realization of the importance of gender equality has caused business heads worldwide to establish executive mandates toward promoting women in larger numbers.
In places such as the United Kingdom, Spain and France, movements are underway to require companies to have 40 percent of their boards represented by women.
To Sweetman, achieving gender equity in the corporate sector will require strong action from the public sector as well.
“It is very hard to be empowered if whoever is in power will not sponsor a woman’s leadership. In society, that means it is very helpful _ and often necessary _ to have government support,” she said.
“It may be necessary for government to intervene when the issues are human rights issues _ to empower equal opportunity, and to disempower those who would use discrimination or sexual harassment.”
Such empowerment policy could be tougher to forge in Asia, where companies traditionally name even fewer women to senior spots.
Korea ranks near the bottom of the international community when it comes to gender equity.
Still, Sweetman said the future could be bright for businesswomen in Asia, but that they will have to join together and find strength in numbers to foster a positive environment for themselves.
“Asian women who want change need to organize themselves into a force that will be reckoned with,”’ she said, adding that it is also important to identify and network with high-ranking men who support their cause.
“Asian women, like women everywhere, need to be creative, and to seek out the key influencers, get their attention and backing, and press forward,” she stressed.
"I think they will both be the engines of their own change, and will greatly facilitate their own progress if they gain the support of even just a few sympathetic men in power.”