Lessons from Cutting Edge Research on Gender Diversity


Statistics show that only 49 percent of all Fortune 1000 companies have women on their senior management and that too restricted to one or two of them. This is also the case with 45 percent of boards that have minimal presence of women on the boards. However, recent cutting edge research has shown that the situation is likely to improve in the future because of some trends that are emerging. This article discusses some of the lessons that this research from the McKinsey Global Institute has uncovered and which can be put to use in organizations wishing for greater diversity.

Diversity is Encouraged by Personalities of Top Management

The research by the McKinsey Institute has shown that diversity is encouraged in those companies where the top management and the senior leadership shows a high level of commitment towards women empowerment and enabling women to perform according to their potential. There is also a cascading effect where having managers who are personally inclined to promote women often encourage women rather than those managers who have personality issues with respect to women.

In short, diversity is encouraged in companies where the personalities of the managers are such that they often have firsthand experience of women playing a prominent role as opposed to managers who have chauvinistic attitudes towards women.

Organizational Culture Plays a Part in Promoting Diversity

Apart from the other aspects, the organizational culture and organizational DNA play an important role in promoting diversity as organizations that have embedded women’s representation and women’s empowerment as part of their organizational culture often seem to promote more women in the workplace as opposed to organizations that do not have a culture of respecting women.

In brief, the core values and attitudes those organizations and their founders instill in the employees plays a major role in ensuring greater representation of women at all levels.

Further, it is not enough for organizations to have gender diversity programs where the initial enthusiasm fades and reality bites if the culture and the core values that the organization lives with are not taken into account. This means that the vision and the mission that the company has and the push given to it by the founders matters a lot more than having diversity programs alone.

Systematic Improvements Must be Undertaken

Change is glacial and systematic change is more so. This means that there is a need to undertake multiyear diversity promotion programs that yield results after a few years instead of instantaneously. This also means that the gender diversity encouragement must be from all levels instead of just at a particular level and it must also be geared to ensure that the whole gamut of diversity promotion spanning all activities must be done.

In other words, there needs to be a systemic effort to promote diversity and not individual contributions alone. This calls for an approach that spans divisions and levels and ensures that the message is sent out organization wide instead of being targeted at the micro level alone.

Diversity Must be Pushed from Above

The research has shown that diversity is “pushed” from above meaning that in those companies that have a higher proportion of women at the top, there tends to be greater involvement in encouraging diversity at all levels.

Of particular importance is the fact that in those companies that have women board members, there are greater chances of the diversity culture percolating to the middle and bottom tiers as the women at the top take steps to ensure that women down the hierarchy are given a chance to progress. Moreover, women board members and in senior positions often mentor women at the lower levels leading to greater diversity all around.


Though the statistics are gloomy and paint a rather sorry picture of the current state of diversity programs, the research by McKinsey points to the future as being better in terms of diversity. This is because many organizations are applying these lessons in their internal processes and this means that going forward, we can expect more diversity in organizations.

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Organizational Diversity