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10 Tips to Build Your Female Talent Pipeline

10 Tips to Build Your Female Talent Pipeline

Women experience an uneven playing field in the workplace. Based on the results of the McKinsey survey of more than 34,000 employees from 39 companies, woman face a workplace skewed in favour of men and a steeper path to leadership.

The survey showed that 78% of companies reported that commitment to gender diversity is a top priority for their CEO, however only 40% of respondents reported that programs to tackle the issue were “well implemented”.

At emberin, we have over 10 years of experience working with hundreds of organisations to achieve real diversity and inclusion results. We have been acknowledged publicly for our role in increasing the number of women in senior roles in short timeframes:

  • Telco: 6% – 31% in 2 years
  • Financial Institution: 11% – 22% in 1 year
  • Mining company: 9% – 23% in 2 years
  • Rail company: 8% – 25% in 2 years

We have been vocal advocates of an approach to gender diversity and inclusion that throws out the traditional ‘diversity best practice checklist’. Our concern has been that with multiple efforts, many companies have very limited results. In a business environment where the ROI of every investment needs to be questioned: it’s time to challenge the ROI of many of the ‘gender’ initiatives being undertaken in organisations.

The McKinsey survey showed that 62% of respondents do not know how to act on gender diversity. We’ve therefore reviewed the research and put together our 10 tips to help you cut to the chase, build, and unleash your female talent pipeline:


  1. Get your CEO authentically vocal

In a previous post we talked about how leaders need to be demonstrating CONDUCT THAT COUNTS.

CEOs and senior executives of our top companies walk, talk, run, and shout about gender diversity. In our experience, the good intention is not enough. Even the most passionate CEOs require coaching to take them on the journey.

CEOs who practice “conduct that counts” ensure their leadership teams include the top talent who will complement, rather than merely reinforce one another and, accordingly, seek strong representation of both genders. CEOs who promote diversity also translate high level goals into daily words and actions that encourage both genders to succeed and be themselves in their organisation. Such conduct means that CEOs clearly and consistently impose consequences for those who don’t behave in such ways, showing zero tolerance for biases against diverse ideas, opinions and styles.


  1. Build new skills down to front line leaders

To make meaningful progress on gender parity goals – and indeed to more effectively lead the next-generation workforce – frontline managers must rethink and reinvigorate their efforts in the conference room to catalyse the talent and ambition in their ranks that may otherwise go unappreciated.

At the corporate level, companies must support these efforts by setting expectations that all leaders are responsible for encouraging and developing female talent, and by providing the necessary training or policies to make those expectations a reality.


  1. Get honest about the barriers – but don’t reinvent them

Disparity is largest at the first step up to manager – for every 100 women promoted, 130 men are promoted. Women fall behind early and continue to lose ground with every step.

Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager – so fewer end up on the path to leadership – and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.

The McKinsey survey identified the following biggest barriers to implementing gender diversity:



  1. Understand where your pipeline is coming from

Among the highest achieving companies, 2 archetypes of successful female talent pipelines have emerged:

  • Fat funnel – companies which started with a remarkably high number of women and then moved a still impressive amount of women into senior roles.
  • Steady pipelines – companies that started with a smaller mix of women early on but retained them as they progressed through the pipeline


  1. The early career phase to middle management is critical

Both genders are equally confident about their ability to reach a top management position during the first 2 years of their career. This suggests that women are entering the workforce with the wind in their sales, feeling highly qualified after success at the university level. However over time, women’s aspiration levels drop more than 60% while men’s stay the same.


  1. Smashing stereotypes in still required

Many studies show that we are drawn to those who think, look and act like us. This is a problem for women working in male dominated environments where there are deeply help beliefs and norms about who is suitable for leadership.


  1. Focus on initiatives that have proven results

The McKinsey research shows the following 3 game changers distinguish best-in-class companies:

  • Persistence – it takes time to effect tangible, sustainable results.
  • CEO commitment – companies that have successfully engrained gender diversity at the leadership level are twice as likely to place gender diversity among the top 3 priorities on their strategic agenda, to have strong support from the CEO and management, and to integrate gender diversity at all levels.
  • Holistic transformation programs – companies are more likely to have change agents and role models at all levels; they also have developed and communicated a compelling change story to support the programs, policies and processes they have put in place.


  1. Authentic sponsorship

Women and men both view sponsorship by senior levels as essential for success. Yet women report fewer substantive interactions with senior leaders than their male counterparts do – and this gap widens as women and men advance. In the same vein, women are less likely to say that a senior leader outside their direct management chain has helped them get a promotion or challenging new assignment.

51% of women in senior management report they interact with a company leader at least once a week, compared to 62% of men.


  1. Cultural change must be coupled with diversity initiatives

Women who are more confident of their ability to rise tend to say that the leadership styles of their companies are compatible with women’s leadership and communication styles, and that women are just as likely as men to reach the top there. Consistently, the absence of diversity in leadership styles was a challenge for many women: almost 40% of female respondents said that women’s leadership and communication styles don’t fit with the prevailing model of top management in their companies.

The bottom line: gender-diversity programs aren’t enough. While they can provide an initial jolt, all too often enthusiasm wanes and old habits resurface. Values last if they are lived every day by the leadership from the top down. If gender diversity fits with that value set, almost all the people in an organisation will want to bring more of themselves to work every day.


  1. Engaging men down the line requires focus

A significant cultural factor affecting women’s ability to reach top management is the engagement and support of men. While about 3 quarters of men believe that teams with significant numbers of women perform more successfully, fewer recognise the challenges women face. Only 19% strongly agree that reaching top management is harder for women, and men are much more likely to reject the idea that the climb is steeper for women.


Those are our 10 tips for building and unleashing the female talent pipeline in your organisation, but it doesn’t stop there. We are proud to have mentored over 30,000 people with our my mentor program. Why has the program had such reach? Quite simply, because it works. We would be happy to help you understand what your organisation is doing right now, and what else may get you better results moving forwards.

Get in touch with us today on +61 1800 306 698 or email us on connect@emberin.com.


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