How to get more women into leadership positions

8 March 2018

BI students have worked out ideas for how to get more women into top-level management positions in business. Here is a list of measures that leaders need to take to get started with the work.

In honour of Women’s Day, BI Norwegian Business School organised a case competition titled "How to get more women into top management positions?" Students from the Master of Science programmes contributed 19 suggestions in total, and three winning groups presented their solutions at a seminar at BI in Oslo on March 8.

“BI is educating tomorrow's leaders and we have an obvious responsibility in furthering progress in the right direction. Our ambition was to acknowledge Women’s Day in a way that added inspiration and benefit in the work towards a better balance of gender equality in business," says BI President Inge Jan Henjesand.

The winners’ recommendations

The jury, the presenters and the guests at the seminar were all impressed by how good the solutions were and how well thought out. The prize money of 20,000 kroner was divided between the three best answers.

The two Indian master's degree students Mithila Mehta (28) and Kunal Shah (34) were named the winners of the competition. In their suggestion, they had outlined a framework consisting of six recommended measures - three at the organisational level and three at the individual level:

  1. Conduct a routine audit of the gender equality situation in the company.
  2. Arrange a good plan for leaving and returning to work in connection with maternity leave.
  3. Create a climate for gender equality in the company.
  4. Create a career plan for employees’ process to the top.
  5. Institutionalise mentorship.
  6. Involve and integrate women into networks, job positions, etc.

Read the interview with the winning team in the latest issue of Kapital.

Use the list as an idea bank!

Initiators of the seminar and case competition were Associate Professor Donatella de Paoli, Associate Professor Laura E. Mercer Traavik and Head of Science Communication Audun Farbrot. They believe the ideas have the potential of contributing to actual change in practice in the years to come. Recommended measures from all the case answers have been collected and made available in one list.
"We will invite business leaders to use the list as an idea bank, choosing the measures that best support the goals and strategy in their own organisation," says Traavik.

Here's how to get more women into top-level management:

  • Companies should embrace and get involved in external activities at educational institutions to counterbalance business.
  • Look at women not only as women, but also as future leaders.
  • Make applications and tests gender neutral (do not include name, gender and picture in the applications).
  • Focus on gender equality, not on women.
  • Revise criteria for employment and promotion.
  • Create awareness of, and acceptance for, the challenge of having female leaders.
  • Look for personality traits that can be found in both men and women and not just typical masculine characteristics.
  • Identify factors where women have a strength, such as ethical assessments.
  • Make sure that the language ​​/ wording used in job advertisements speaks as much to women as to men.
  • Give one person the responsibility for ensuring equal treatment in job interviews.
  • Include gender equality figures in the company's key performance indicators.
  • Companies must identify talented female leaders at an early stage and find out what it is they really want, and then accommodate that.
  • Flexibility in the workplace to improve the balance between work and family.
  • Offer training / education to develop thought processes and self-esteem.
  • Create a culture that integrates men and women in the workplace.
  • Make your business more female-friendly by being open to flexible working hours and workplaces.
  • Invest in women from an early age.
  • Record and map salaries.
  • Initiate mentoring programmes with dedicated mentors and job shadowing.
  • Use artificial intelligence in senior management recruitment.
  • Make women want to reach top-level management by introducing shared leadership (two leaders).
  • Teach women to not have to be so perfect.
  • Require at least one female candidate for a leadership position that is to be filled
  • Provide personal feedback and encourage women to reapply for leadership positions (when they are first not accepted).
  • Recognise and reduce unconscious differential treatment.
  • Focus on unaware gender discrimination.
  • Provide training to become aware of unconscious discrimination
  • Challenge gender stereotypes and ensure equal opportunity development for men and women.
  • Encourage financial administrators to create ‘equality funds’ that invest in companies that focus on gender equality.
  • Involve and integrate women in various networks, job positions, etc.
  • Establish a strong women's network in the organisation.
  • Have leaders take more responsibility for making women's talents and skills more visible to the rest of the organisation, and not just leave it to the women themselves.
  • Offer professional coaching to women.
  • Establish groups to assist and support women who have been on leave in connection with their children. Here it is important that they receive the necessary support, recognition, education and empowerment to reach the top.
  • Introduce monthly discussion meetings to raise awareness / change organisational culture.
  • Develop and establish a boot camp that can help develop women's self-esteem, negotiation skills and networks.
  • Allow women to try out being a leader.
  • Get more women to accept and take the risk needed in leadership roles.
  • Launch a platform where women can share stories from experiences in entrepreneurship and to receive support in their work.
  • Establish an internal consulting firm in the company composed of women. This provides an opportunity to demonstrate skills both for themselves and the rest of the organisation.
  • Companies should create a culture that also encourages men to take parental leave.
  • Make existing female executives more visible as role models to both students and employees who aspire to leadership positions.

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