By Valentina Zarya
March 6, 2018

It’s that time of year again! International Woman’s Day is a holiday during which people and companies around the world celebrate women’s accomplishment and reflect on the gender divide. In corporate America, this means confronting the fact that women make about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes and that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female (among many, many other disparities).

But IWD isn’t just for talking about problems; it’s also about offering solutions. One piece of low-hanging fruit that can make a big impact for professional women? Put a woman to your leadership team. That’s right: the simply having a least one woman in the C-suite can triple the number of women in a company’s management pipeline, according to the 2018 installment of Accenture’s annual Getting to Equal report.

Accenture’s analysis, which focuses on how culture is key to achieving equality for women in the workplace, is based on interviews with 22,000 people in 34 countries. It finds that there are almost three times more women on the “fast track” in organizations with at least one female senior leader: 23%, compared to 8% for companies with all-male leadership. The professional services firm defines a “fast track” woman as one who reaches manager level within five years and leads her peer group in terms of advancement in the workplace.

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The biggest impact, Accenture says, comes from increasing the proportion of women on a leadership team from none to a third. How to get companies to take that first step? Hold the leadership team accountable. Workplaces in which senior executives’ feet are put to the fire on gender diversity are 60% more likely to have a greater share of women in executive leadership roles.

While starting at the top seems to be the most impactful strategy, that’s not the only way to get women on the fast track. Creating women’s resource groups is another simple strategy: Two-thirds of high-performing female managers were part of their company’s women’s resource groups, compared to less than half of women overall. And it’s not just that ambitious women are more likely to join: In companies where women’s networks do exist, 90% of women participate.

One note of caution to leaders looking to implement “women-friendly” policies: Some of them actually hold female professionals back. One notable example is maternity leave, which if introduced without a policy for fathers, is likely to slow women’s career progression. (When companies offer both, the negative impact on women’s career advancement is eliminated completely.)

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