Why are there not more women leaders? This is something, I have never quite been able to understand, because if you look at it purely from a factual perspective, there should be significantly more female leaders than there are. Let’s focus on the only 2 facts HR and business leaders need to know. The first is that companies with more diverse leadership make more money. It is that simple. This has been proven time and time again. It is an undisputable reality, whether a person’s personal politics wants to accept it or not. It is a fact. The second of these, is that research going back through thousands and thousands of 360 reviews have shown that women are rated more highly than men in 17 of the 19 leadership capabilities. Despite this, only 5% of women have made it to CEO within the Fortune 500, and equally appalling numbers in most industries and companies around the world.  So, despite all the evidence supporting the case for more women in leadership roles, why are there not more female leaders?

Get rid of the quotas

A key reason why firms are still failing in getting the relevant female talent through to the right levels is simple. They are taking a check the box approach to diversity. This is an approach that is doomed to fail. The talent available to a company varies at any given time, so the right talent should not be defined as a specific gender, as you are likely setting up someone to fail miserably. The best talent is the best talent, if that happens to be 90% male at a given moment, that is fine. If it happens to be 90% female at a given time that is also fine.

If a company arbitrarily says 40% of its leaders must be female, as many firms have chosen to do, this results in two common problems. The first of these, is that any woman hired into a leadership role is seen as being a token gesture. This cuts the authority out from beneath them before they even start. The mindset of the old-fashioned misogynists internally is going to be “oh, she only got the job, because she was a woman”. This results in her not being taken seriously and likely some high potential male talent internally, leaving the team as they feel their career path is limited due to the quota. Those individuals may not be demonstrating bias, but a company is telling its male employees that even if they are great, a job must go to a woman to tick a box. So why would a driven profession stay in an environment that would not potentially reward their performance? This also hurts the leader’s performance, as key capability will be lost from the team which will also impact their results.

The second of these problems is that a company ends up hiring someone into a role that they are not yet ready for or capable of performing, simply because they need to meet an arbitrary quota. This is usually combined with a company making a big deal out of hiring a female leader, because they are box ticking. Then what happens? Because they hired on a token basis, the female leader becomes a very public failure, and it allows an organisation to double down on the old misogynistic view that woman can’t lead. This in my opinion is a key reason why there are now less female CEOs at Fortune 500 level than there were 5 years ago. Firms went down this route of tokenism and quotas and have now decided diversity does not work because they put the wrong people in the wrong roles to tick a box.

Assess Capability Properly

The truth is, that the easiest way to get more women in to leadership roles, is to assess leadership capability properly and fairly. If a selection process assesses an individual based on their abilities, performance, results, management style and so on, you are going to end up with more women in leadership roles. This is the honest reality about the companies that have a higher proportion of female leaders that have proved successful. They often have not had quotas, but they have had strong leadership assessment capability. Its why they were already in the lead before this subject became mainstream. They made a female CEO or CFO or COO etc, because they were clearly the best person for the job and everyone in the company knew it.

If a firm can accurately assess leadership capability, research has already shown, that women generally score higher than men in 17 of 19 leadership skills. It is that simple. There are numerous ways to put this together with various psychometric tools, case studies and scenario, competency, and problem-solving questions. These interviews should be assessed with an interview scoresheet grading each answer impartially and a diverse set of interviewers. Then the problem will solve itself. The old-fashioned alpha male, who does business over beers and dominates and asserts, and gets aggressive when pressed is incapable of scoring highly in an impartial, objective capability-based assessment. Toxic masculinity will disappear and over the course of a few years the organisation will realise it now has a diverse and highly capable leadership group able to deliver results.