x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Companies seeing benefits of women in senior roles

Female participation particularly in senior management roles pays off for companies.

From left: Lucy Reed of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Dr Michelle Webber of Brock University, and Vicki Gillespie of PepsiCo.
From left: Lucy Reed of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Dr Michelle Webber of Brock University, and Vicki Gillespie of PepsiCo.

Out of all the Fortune 500 companies, only 15 are run by women. That's just 3 per cent.

Many organisations worldwide are trying to boost the number of women among their employees, but the motivation goes beyond gender equality.

"On one hand, it's the right thing to do. On the other, it makes great business sense," says Vicki Gillespie, the vice president of planning for the Middle East, Africa and Asia at PepsiCo, a US$60 billion (Dh220.37bn) snack and beverage conglomerate.

"There are numerous studies that will tell you the benefit of having increased female participation within an organisation, in particular at senior management ranks and on boards," Ms Gillespie says. "They have consistently outperformed those organisations that don't."

Other workplace experts agree.

"Diversity in organisations is always one of the ingredients of being successful," says Panos Manolopoulos, the vice chairman for regions at Stanton Chase International, an executive search consultancy. "It has been proven worldwide that women participating in executive positions has always added value to organisations."

Last month, a global survey of senior business executives found that 71 per cent of these leaders felt employee "resilience" was extremely important in determining which workers they wanted to retain on staff (the research company Accenture defines resilience as "the ability to overcome challenges and turn them into opportunities").

The executives surveyed rated women as slightly more resilient than men and said that 40 per cent of their companies were already preparing women for senior management roles, while 60 per cent were providing women with career-enhancing assignments, according to Accenture.

But how can more businesses attract skilled women in the first place - and hold on to them with similar schemes? PepsiCo is one of the few firms with female chief executives, and several publications have named it one of the best companies for multicultural women as well as one of the top places where women of all backgrounds want to work. Its success in being known as an employer where diversity counts stems, in part, from internal leadership development programmes, says Ms Gillespie.

"That's something we actively work on," she says. "We strive to have all our associates succeed in whatever they want, and we provide training and leadership development to assist them in that. Really, it's something that's valued from the front lines all the way to the executive level."

Yet hiring enough women in the first place is often the biggest obstacle to creating a more equitable workplace. That is why whenever she is recruiting candidates for a certain position, Ms Gillespie says, she makes sure at least half the applicants are women.

"At least my starting point when I'm recruiting is balanced," she says.

Once qualified women are in, employers should consider finding out what their individual goals and career aspirations are and provide feedback on how they need to perform to get there.

"It's not about a cookie-cutter approach, where you do the same thing for everybody," says Ms Gillespie.

Other experts note that critical skills, such as workplace resilience, can be learned and improved on the job. Top companies provide high-performing women with training and mentoring but also so-called "stretch roles" that continue to challenge them, says Nellie Borrero, the managing director of global inclusion and diversity at Accenture. She notes that these kinds of roles can boost resilience and confidence to better prepare women for senior leadership positions.

nparmar@thenational.ae