Women and ROI

Women and ROI

Korn/Ferry International recently published a fascinating book, Women in Leadership as part of its Talent Management Best Practices Series. The authors analyzed research both from Korn/Ferry’s own work with thousands of leaders and from numerous other studies, articles, and books.

The Good News

The book’s most fascinating, and encouraging, conclusion is that, “Organizations with more women leaders produce better financial results.” Yes, you read that correctly. It is not just that organizations with more women are better places to work, or better managed, or have nicer furniture, or more family-friendly policies, or whatever the assumptions are that people have about what women bring to an organization. It’s that More Women Leaders = More Money.

Furthermore, the return on investment (ROI) is not insignificant. Korn/Ferry cites the 2012 McKinsey Women Matter study, which found a ROI at 41% percent and higher for companies with the largest share of women on their executive committees.

However, it is important to define what constitutes “more women.” For example, studies found that boards need to have three or more women representatives before organizations realize the benefits that women bring. Fewer than that and the women are more likely to be singled out, drowned out, or viewed as simply an anomaly.

The Bad News

To be honest, there is a lot of bad news in this book. Some of it isn’t new, such as the fact that women are stuck in an ugly Catch 22. If they don’t negotiate for extra money, promotions, etc., then they don’t receive them. But if they do negotiate for themselves, their efforts are viewed much less favorably than those of their male counterparts.

The news I found the most frustrating, however, is that there is a very different set of expectations for executive level women then for executive level men. Actually, as I type this, I realize that this isn’t new news. What was new to me, however, was seeing those different expectations laid bare.

In 2008/2009, Korn/Ferry administered surveys in which people reviewed 67 leadership skills and then rated an individual on two different scales: whether the individual possessed the specific skills, and the importance of those skills for that individual’s success. For executive level individuals, 264 women and 774 men responded.

Now here is the really scary part:

-Twenty-two of these 67 leadership skills were rated as “important” for female executives. In other words, the reviewers expected a senior female leader to be strong in approximately 33% of the potential 67 leadership skills.

-Only three of these 67 leadership skills were rated as “important” for male executives. In other words, the reviewers only expected a senior male leader to be strong in approximately 4% of the potential 67 leadership skills.


The same surveys showed that female executives are rising to this inequitable challenge and are outperforming male executives in 17 of those 67 leadership skills. (For those of you who are enjoying my percentages, women outperform men in over 25% of the skills.) Male executives, on the other hand, only outperform female executives in 4 of the 67 skills. (Slightly less than 6%.)

What Can You Do?

First, you can get your hands on a copy of Korn/Ferry’s book and read it. It goes into a whole lot more detail than I can go into in this newsletter. http://bit.ly/18WBsc1

Your next steps differ, depending on whether you are already in a management position yourself and want to make sure that your organization has senior women leaders, or whether you are a woman who wants to become an executive. However, the three primary areas that the report outlines are:

– Motivation. Organizations need to discuss career goals with high potential women and individuals need to be clear on their goals.

– Experience. Organizations need to make sure that women get to do work that will enable them to develop necessary skills, in particular those relating to strategy and finance – areas in which men are often rated more highly. Individuals need to seek out new areas and take on challenges.

– Relationships. Organizations need to ensure that women have the opportunity to develop strong relationships with people at all levels of the organization. Part of the way to do this is through mentors and sponsors. Individuals need to reach out to many mentors and to seek feedback.

To Summarize

Having women in leadership positions is not just a nice thing to do. It is also likely to be an excellent return on investment. If you want more women in executive positions in your organization, you need to take specific, conscious steps to make it happen because many factors cut against women’s success.



In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.

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