in a year filled with work and family demands, supporting the careers of women should be a priority for all organizations.

It’s no surprise that women continue to strive to attain their fair share of seats in the C-suite. Decades of institutional biases, glass ceilings and often inadequate career support have resulted in just a small minority of female leaders at the biggest global organizations. While the number of Fortune 500 women CEOs reached an all-time high earlier this year at 37, this is still just 7% of the total.

One reason for this imbalance is that most organizations have failed to adequately develop a robust pipeline of female talent. According to McKinsey, while gender parity is progressing, it’s doing so at an unacceptable pace. In 2015, the percentage of women in senior manager/director roles was 32%; in 2020, that figure crept up to 33%. 

While a one-percent gain is certainly no cause for celebration, McKinsey also reported that women leadership in the C-suite rose from 17% in 2015 to 21% last year. Good news to be sure, but considering in 2018 that figure was 22%, this again is not especially encouraging. The corporate world needs to do better.

How can we do this? At the macro-level, leaders of all genders should consider how their corporate culture potentially reinforces gender bias. From the way we attract and recruit, to the way we assess performance and potential, to how we reward and promote, every process at every paygrade deserves examination. After all, building a robust pipeline of qualified female talent isn’t enough if parity falls short of reaching the C-suite.

I’d like to think Randstad is ahead of the game. In our last annual report, we detailed that women account for nearly half (47%) of senior leadership positions. Compared with McKinsey’s data, Randstad is performing 42% better, a stat that we’re exceptionally proud of. 

Furthermore, last year we added two women executive board members – Karen Fichuk and Rebecca Henderson – both of whom were just recognized by Staffing Industry Analysts to be among the top 150 women leaders in our industry. They were joined by colleagues Anthea Collier, Traci Fiatte, Ilonka Jankovich, Audra Jenkins and Annemarie Muntz. We owe them our gratitude for not only driving performance during these unprecedented times, but also serving as inspiration to all.

Again, this is no time to celebrate because one of the negative consequences of the pandemic is the impact on women’s careers. According to The New York Times, women were disproportionately affected because as parents they tend to take on more of the burden associated with the household and childcare. The closure of schools and daycare facilities early on in the pandemic added to the pressures parents face, forcing some women to either choose part-time work or leave the labor market altogether. 

Women also work in the majority of industries hardest-hit by the pandemic, such as retail, hospitality and government. As a result, they’ve lost jobs at a faster rate than men, leading many to call the downturn a ‘she-session’, which Rebecca Henderson writes about in Forbes. This is counter to past economic contractions, which usually led to more men losing jobs. 

COVID’s disruption to a woman’s career can be longlasting. Even before the pandemic, research showed that at least some portion of the gender pay disparity is associated with parenting demands. This challenge has been significantly amplified this year and will likely remain difficult into 2021. Knowing this, employers around the world need to act swiftly.

This means actively identifying potential female leaders and giving them the appropriate resources and guidance to succeed. Formalizing flexible work policies and encouraging a better work-life balance should also be a priority, as burnout can be extremely damaging to engagement and career advancement. Building a robust pipeline of women leaders also requires effective mentoring and more development opportunities.

Why should organizations expend more energy and budgeting for an effort like this at a time when cost savings is the mantra of most C-level officers? Not only is it the right thing to do, but recent research has shown that companies with more female leaders are outperforming those with fewer women leaders. This isn’t surprising since we’ve known for years that companies with a more diverse leadership team outperform their peers.

Randstad, like many other global businesses around the world, has more ground to make up in reaching gender parity, but I believe we have the management and a diverse perspective to maintain our momentum. I want to again congratulate our female leaders who have been recognized this year by Staffing Industry Analysts – not only for their contributions to our business, but also for serving as examples of how a diverse and inclusive culture can work.

#WorkingWomen #GenderParity

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.