Building, filling women’s leadership pipeline

22 Mar, 2020 - 00:03 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Women & Leadership
Maggie Mzumara

IT is a fact! We do not have as many women as we need in the leadership pipeline. The reasons for this are many and varied.

When I was doing a research on women leadership for my Masters in Business Leadership in 2012, I encountered several women who, though they had made it to supervisory positions in their careers due to some demonstrated leadership acumen, were reluctant to proceed in leadership positions of higher authority and more responsibility.

These women were plainly not interested in advancing further on the leadership trajectory.

Many of them cited the demands that leadership roles made on their time, especially through eating up family life.

In the interest of preserving their marriages and work/home life balances, these women were content to either stay where they were or completely opt out.

This is one example of how leakages in the leadership pipeline manifest.

And frankly, it is every woman’s prerogative to choose her own desired path vis-a-vis to be or not to be a leader.

However, by and large, this article considers the issue of leadership and the pipeline thereof from the point of view of those women who would like to be leaders but are finding their paths blocked, or finding no opportunities opening up in their direction.

But first things first, let me bring full understanding of what a leadership pipeline is and what dynamics present around such.

What is a leadership pipeline?

Generally speaking, a leadership pipeline is a systematic, visible system that identifies leaders, assesses competencies of the leaders, plans leadership development and measures the effectiveness of the same.

Dynamics, Stats and Trends

Getting more females at the very highest levels starts with developing a leadership pipeline — one filled with talented, ambitious women at every stage of the journey.

It is largely believed that for women to be equally represented at the top of organisations, there is a need to reach down to pull them through to the top end of the pipeline.

But it is very necessary to recognise the existence of a critical pipeline leakage of the high-potential and high-performing female population, which results in lost growth opportunities, high replacement costs and the potential for cultural obsolescence.

Studies reveal that the pipeline slows to a trickle the further along the ranks they go.

In fact, the single largest drop-off occurs at the transition from individual contributor to manager, which is just the time they should be poised to elevate their careers.

A US survey carried in a Wall Street Journal article in 2016 showed the following about work levels and corresponding gender representations: At entry level positions, women and men were not overly different at 46 percent women and 54 percent men.

At manager level, the specific quoted study found 37 percent women as opposed to 63 percent men.

There was a considerable drop in females at senior manager or director level to 33 percent women and 67 percent men.

At vice president (VP) levels, there were 29 percent women compared to 71 percent men.

While at senior VP level there were only 24 percent women in comparison to 76 percent men.

This further worsened for women who stood at 19 percent at C-Suite level while men were at 81 percent.

(C-suite gets its name from the titles of top senior executives, which tend to start with the letter C, for “chief,” as in chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO)).

While the above may have been a study specific to the US, generally similar trends and patterns exist elsewhere in the world.

Actually, if truth be told, the situation is worse for women in these parts of the world than abroad.

Key elements to expand women’s leadership

A KMPG Women’s Leadership Study in 2015 identified confidence-building and leadership training, along with the ability to network with women leaders, as key elements to expanding women’s leadership.

When asked what training and development skills were needed to move more women into leadership roles, 57 percent of study respondents cited leadership training, 56 percent confidence-building, 48 percent decision-making, 47 percent networking, and 46 percent critical thinking.

Specific strategies organisations and other stakeholders can execute in building and filling the leadership pipeline for women include:

  • Set performance targets — (not quotas) for female retention, promotion and leadership development improvements, with clear personal and team accountabilities.
  • Commit to including a target number of female candidates for each leadership appointment.
  • Monitor performance on female leadership advancements — are set guidelines being followed and producing results?
  • Reconsider the composition of leadership role selection teams and whether subconscious bias (against women) affects decision-making.
  • Communicate leadership opportunities and decision processes transparently including criteria, selection process, relevant experience and attributes.
  • Encourage females to communicate interest in, and apply for, leadership positions.
  • Provide mentoring and development infrastructure for all high potential female managers.
  • Invest in leadership development and training opportunities, particularly for high potential females.
  • Identify and communicate relevant career paths and stepping stones for leadership roles.
  • Complete career potential analysis for all female leaders and communicate transparently.
  • Invest in cultural awareness through developing your personal awareness and organisational awareness of gender differences and biases. Recognise the existence of bias and consider bias awareness training. (As per KPMG Study recommendations)


Maggie Mzumara is a media, communication and leadership consultant. She is a strong advocate of women’s leadership and is founder of the Success in Stiletto (SiS) Seminar Series, a leadership development platform for women. She is also a Diversity Trainer and Unconscious Bias Trainer. She can be reached on [email protected] or followed on Twitter @magsmzumara


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