Women Matter: Making the breakthrough

McKinsey’s latest research on how women advance in the workplace, produced for the Wall Street Journal’s Task Force for Women in the Economy, breaks down some of the ways companies are advancing female executives and weakening the barriers that hold women back. Several of the 60 companies that participated in the study demonstrate that it can be done—and in different ways.

Since 2007, McKinsey has been researching the business case for increasing the number of women in senior management roles.

Our latest report, Women Matter 2012: Making the breakthrough, examines the gender-diversity programs of 235 large European companies. The report investigates what initiatives companies are taking, what is working well or less well, and why.

The research found that most companies are now taking gender diversity issues extremely seriously, devoting real resources to redressing the gender imbalance. But many companies also expressed frustration that their efforts do not always create the expected impact.

What does success look like?

Companies with the greatest proportion of women in top positions put in place a critical mass of initiatives. They also excel on three dimensions:

  • Top management is visibly committed to addressing gender imbalance
  • Women’s representation through the talent pipeline is tracked carefully and consistently
  • Understanding and addressing unacknowledged mindsets, among men and women, is part of the overall program

Companies that lead on these dimensions are also most diligent about execution—driving through their gender diversity programs. Their success points to ways in which other companies can reinforce what they have already achieved to make real breakthroughs in terms of the numbers of women who contribute to the health and effectiveness of their organization.