HR’s Greatest Opportunity to Support Gender Diversity

HR’s Greatest Opportunity to Support Gender Diversity

As a mom of a young daughter, I’m paying more attention to the gender diversity push than ever before. I personally never felt passed over for roles or promotions due to my gender – nor afforded them because of my gender either. That said, until the last half of my career, I worked in corporate HR where a lot of women tend to hang out.

In a recent article promoting the top 23 companies in tech with the most diverse executive teams, key observations were put forward. The most common roles for female executives were Head of HR (74%), CMO (67%) and Head of Legal (57%). The least common roles were CIO (4%) and COO (4%). In addition, the small number of female CEOs at these (and other) tech companies was due in large part because females are not serving in COO or P&L responsible positions that feed CEO succession plans.

Granted, this is a study about tech companies where we know there’s been a problem with gender diversity for a while. But it’s not just tech. I grew up in Houston, and oil and gas isn’t overflowing with female leaders either.

Forbes wrote about Dave Payne, a father and 38-year vet of the oil and gas industry, now with Chevron. As he watches his daughter enter the petroleum engineering field, he speaks a truth that some in the industry are starting to act on.

“The issue is more about recognizing micro-inequities,” Dave says. “That’s where the real work needs to be done.” He also believes the industry has a lot of work to do to make the field a more attractive place for women to work – “to eliminate some of the testosterone that circulates out there” – so they can gain critical field experience, without which the path to leadership can be an arduous journey.

So, where’s HR’s opportunity to support gender diversity?

Talent acquisition? Sure. Training and awareness? You bet. Total rewards that provide for flexibility? Absolutely.

But the most important area is likely leadership development, and what Dave called out as the “path to leadership”. It is the key to supporting sustainable and impactful gender diversity.

That path to leadership is where HR looks itself in the mirror and says, “Get out of HR!” If you ever want to be a COO or a CEO, you must obtain that “field” experience. Which means finance, sales, operations – those functions where you gain commercial and P&L responsibility. Without it, unless you decide to start a company, it will be more difficult to progress into that C-level role where you could have the most impact.

While CHROs and CPOs absolutely impact organizations, very few will become CEOs without the zig-zagged path into other functions.

Let’s begin to look at our leadership development programs as more than developing “competencies” needed at the top. Let’s find the real opportunity and develop custom plans for employees, inclusive of those of you who want to do more than just climb the HR ladder.

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