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Towards a gender balanced pipeline: ‘power up’ the difference women leaders bring

McKinsey & Company recently published an article summarising their 10-year research into gender equality.  They highlighted some of the constant messages, what’s changed and some interesting unanswered questions.

Here are our two key highlights with some thoughts from us.

1. The difference women bring increases the ‘collective intelligence’ of organisations

“Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, puts it like this in our latest Women Matter report: The evidence is very strong that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams, whether these are all-male or all-female teams.  This occurs across all kinds of different dependent variables, from creative problem solving to analytical tasks to communication skills.  Diversity helps because we have a complementarity of different perspectives, or what we call ‘collective intelligence.’”


McKinsey & Company acknowledge that women do lead differently to men and that specific difference is increasing the ‘collective intelligence’ of organisations.  The data is unequivocal, that diverse teams result in greater organisational growth and profitability and the next challenge is how to harness the difference women leaders bring.  We know from our experience, and the report by Korn Ferry; Women CEOs Speak, that there is much more for organisations to learn and understand about how to do that and this is a key focus when working with our clients.

2.  Female talent are less attracted to the C-Suite and few understand why

“One kink in the more recent findings is particularly noteworthy: fewer women than men are interested in reaching the highest corporate echelons.  We can still only speculate why.  Is the top job not appealing?  Or is it too hard to get?”


McKinsey & Company form no conclusion as to why female talent are less attracted to the C-Suite, however answering the ‘why’ question is the pivot point to creating inclusive cultures.  Leadership teams often find themselves in an echo chamber of dissatisfied agreement and what we hear from clients is “we need more women at the top … we have the policies in place … we are a meritocracy and we’re now cognizant about bias – and yet the women are still not here or in our pipeline.”

Maybe the reason leaders don’t know the answers is because they don’t know the right questions to ask or how to ask them?  In our work we bring into the room the diverse stories and voices of those who can answer the right questions through creating a different and meaningful dialogue based on equal power which creates safety – the often missing factor in genuine dialogue.

Each time we engage in deep dialogue we know it’s going to be challenging for organisations to hear their employees reveal their blind spots but it’s also hugely enlightening, insightful and actionable.  Some of the core ‘asks’ from women leaders engaged in this dialogue process include:

  • Listen to my voice and my story

  • Let go of your assumptions of what you think I want

  • Need and invite me in so I can co-create the solutions with you.

As evidenced by some of our inspiring clients, we know that when leaders get authentically connected with their teams, change happens fast and organisations begin to find the answers to McKinsey’s conundrum and create new momentum.

It is great to see the data and reporting about gender and women’s leadership becoming more nuanced.  The data is beginning to better reflect and acknowledge the uniqueness women bring and the cultural conditions in which they will thrive. 

Authors: Clare Russell and Lynn White, WDI Consulting Limited

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