The women in HR supervise the talent pipeline

But we need to look why the women in HR can’t move the needle which is going backwards

I shared a series of important numbers with a group of HR leaders at the UNLEASH event in Amsterdam last week. Most were unfamiliar with them. The session was called “So many women in HR. So few women in Tech”. But there was also a question tagged on the end: “What more can we do about it?”

The reason I did this is because I am confused about a lot of the issues around this topic. There are some things I just don’t get. It would seem neither did they.

The data

  • 219: The number of years it will take for an organic shift to global gender parity (World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2017).
  • 45: The number of years gender parity has regressed since 2016 (World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2017).

This is not a one-off downward shift. The needle has been gradually moving backwards since 2006. At the current pace of change it will take until 2234 to achieve organic gender balance, unless we pro-actively do something to accelerate it. It also is not related to the level of economic development. The US is currently number 49 in the WEF rankings table. In terms of maternity provisions it is one of the lowest in the world, grouped alongside remote Pacific Islands.

The business case

I definitely don’t get this. The business case for gender balance is incontrovertible. All research suggests that businesses which have gender balanced leadership teams increase ROI by 15% (Mckinsey). In general terms, gender balanced and inclusive organisations are more creative, plus they have more effective teams with increased productivity and innovation (Josh Bersin). Gender balance initiatives should be simply another business transformation initiative to increase profitability. Like any similar corporate programme, it should involve the three pillars of change management: leadership commitment, systemic and behavioural change. In some large global organisations this is happening, but 90% of European businesses are SMEs and they have a long way to go.

Talent Pipeline managed by women

talent pipeline

HR oversees the talent pipeline. These processes for the most part are managed by women. Most companies need to review the business systems used to identify, attract, retain and develop female talent. This involves turning tried and tested benchmarks on their heads, as many are no longer always fit for purpose. Chronological, continuous and linear employment is difficult for many women to achieve, and they are judged harshly when they don’t. Presence based cultures exacerbate that situation, keeping women out of the corporate sandbox. All of this is before the deep-seated unconscious bias kicks in, which impacts candidate sourcing, attraction, hiring and promotion processes.

HR Glass Ceiling

We have to take a look at the HR glass ceiling:

  • 66% of HR positions are held by women (71% in the US)
  • 49% of executive roles are held by women  – please take not of the gap.
  • 10% Gender Pay Gap in UK (CMI)
  • 40% Gender Pay Gap  US (Department of Labor)

There is also a gender difference in the way that HR executives spend their time as strategic advisors to the business. Men spend 37% of their time in this role. For women it drops to 29%.

There are three types of challenges:

1. Sectors where few applications from women are received

This is about revamping outdated candidate sourcing practices. It is best employed in sectors or for openings where female candidates are hard to identify. In these cases an organisation needs to pro-actively look for, or encourage, applications from women. It will be important to make every element of the hiring process female-friendly to draw them in.

The days of one size fits all recruitment processes are gone.

Please check out our eBook on how men and women look for jobs differently to gain an understanding of how they approach the job market.

2. Sectors which receive equal interest from men and women

Female candidates are frequently cut from shortlist and eliminated from the talent pipeline by the biases of those involved. Improving this requires a mix of unconscious bias training, systemic changes and the correct application of technology.

3. Reducing churn, increasing retention

Some sectors have gender balance at entry-level but fail to retain female talent. Organisations need to take a hard look at this and identify their specific weak points. It will vary within a sector or even within the same organisation, as different departments have different challenges. It can be anything from toxic, non-inclusive cultures, to a lack of recognition and flexibility, or simply too few role models. All these aspects play a role.

But once attrition has been reduced it’s important to increase promotion opportunities throughout the pipeline. The same issues also cause women to operate below their potential and to opt to stay in the marzipan layer. Research from JUMP this year confirms what we already know. Women are as ambitious as men. Failure to have senior women below C level as potential replacements for departing executives is a pipeline issue.

The women in HR should be in a prime position to lead the change. I exhorted the people in my session to do one thing that would make a difference. I encourage everyone who reads this to do the same!

For a wider overview to help your organisation attract, recruit and retain female talent contact 3Plus now.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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