How business leaders can help women at work

Sheila Penrose
President, S.A.Penrose Advisors
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When companies recognize the business imperative for gender parity and implement strategies to address it, women are able to perform to their highest potential and make their companies more competitive.

Businesses that hold leadership accountable, create diverse boards, develop inclusive cultures and apply targeted recruitment and retention policies, are more successful and have more engaged employees. Simply put, they win more when they take advantage of the full pool of talent, and develop and promote all qualified leaders.

In companies with female representation at the leadership and governing-board levels, employees are more likely to feel their voices are heard and their needs understood. They feel more empowered and encouraged to succeed. 

And yet, women are not favourably represented at the board level in any industry. Women make up just 26% of board executives in the food and beverage industries, 21% in the financial sector and 15% in real estate. I take pride in serving as the chairman of the board of directors in an underrepresented industry, where two of my nine fellow board members are women.

While organizations have made strides to become more inclusive, progress is part of an ongoing journey that involves steady changes, education and action. I see this at JLL, where more than one-third of non-executive directors are female, and there is solid representation in the senior management team and entire workforce. I also see progress through the 30% Club, which promotes better gender balance at all levels of business, focusing primarily on developing strategies to achieve 30% representation at the board level.

Leadership accountability

Leadership support is critical for any company to achieve parity. Mentorship and sponsorship create stronger professional relationships, increased engagement and higher levels of promotion and retention. For example, JLL’s CEO asked other leaders in the company to be a part of this change, challenging each of them to hire, mentor or sponsor a high-performing woman and help her advance her career. The goal is to create a stronger pipeline of female employees, who can move towards positions of senior leadership and contribute to the firm’s success.

Another area where leaders can take accountability is in recruitment. Here they must be fully invested in a company’s broader parity and diversity goals, and reward managers for delivering the desired results. Some companies achieve this by weighing diversity and parity results more heavily in managers’ performance reviews. When objectives related to closing the gender gap are embedded as a practice in all operations – from recruitment to business development and pursuits – results follow.

Women aren’t alone in supporting gender parity; male counterparts need to step in, too. JLL’s country head in Japan is a member of the Asia Pacific Sustainability Council, which drives all sustainability initiatives, including diversity and inclusion. Our regional CEOs have attended Women’s Summits every year, and we support the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity community.

Employee action

As critical as it is for a company’s leadership to engage in the gender parity conversation and set strategies to achieve it, execution is in the hands of the workforce. For many companies, this is by way of organizations and groups that engage employees with one another through professional development, community involvement, business development and networking.

In India, for instance, JLL’s WIRE (Women in Real Estate) group developed the Mavens network to offer women support and advice in their professional development. India’s quarterly Women Connect, which attracts more than 300 employees, meets to address pressing issues facing women, from health awareness to financial resources. In addition, 20 JLL women participate in an annual 46km marathon to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Becoming part of the professional, personal and local communities where women work and live also contributes towards gender parity. Often, women find ways to overlap these efforts through organizations that affect similarly diverse groups. Women in London who participated in Property Week’s diversity campaign on Warwick Street, for example, were able to connect with fellow members of the industry, the London business community and clients – all while promoting corporate inclusion and community engagement.

Women are clearly able to lead, serve their professional and personal communities, and motivate young leaders. Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent.

To attract the best people, we need to cast a wide net and forget divisions of gender, race, age and sexual orientation – or any other label. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.

More about women in work
Where are the women in the corridors of power?
2095: the year of gender equality at work?
Unlocking the potential of gender parity

Read the 2014 Gender Gap Report

Author: Sheila Penrose is chairman of the board at Jones Lang LaSalle

Image: Fog shrouds the skyline of New York as a woman stands next to the Hudson River on a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

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LeadershipEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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