Workday Event Addresses Ways to Bolster Female Leadership Ranks

A group of executives appearing on a panel at the Chicago event said enhanced mentorship through technology can help boost the ranks of female leaders in business.
Women leadership

Working women are making progress in rising in climbing the corporate ladder, but their ascent has been slow moving.

Women currently make up about half of the population, yet they represent nearly 60 percent of both undergraduate and master’s degree recipients, according to Center for American Progress.

When it comes to corporate America, however, women’s representation dwindles throughout the hierarchy. Companies listed among the S&P 500 are about 44 percent female, with 25 percent in senior-level roles, 20 percent on corporate boards and just 6 percent as CEOs.

A number of female executives gathered in Chicago this week to discuss the issue as part of a panel at Workday Rising, an event put on by enterprise cloud applications company Workday Inc.

Among the many questions the panel addressed was what business leaders can do to help bolster the number of women in leadership roles as well as the underlying causes behind the disparity.

“I think men do better job in realizing that work is a game,” said Lynn Christensen, senior vice president of application development at Pleasanton, California-based Workday.

The so-called “game” of work was a prominent topic among the panelists, which included Teri Guercio, global HR technology lead at Jones Lang LaSalle; Jodi Enggasser, global HRIT director at Cushman & Wakefield; Carol Sawdye, global chief operating officer at PwC; and Workday’s Christensen.

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The women talked about their own experiences and challenges climbing the corporate ladder and what advice they would pass on to today’s aspiring female leaders.

Christensen shared that early in career, she worked harder than her peers, thinking that would speak for itself and lead to a promotion. But when she saw those who worked less received promotions, she realized there’s a game she needed to learn how to play. After observing the company’s decision-makers and learning their visions for the company, Christensen said she could focus on aligning her work to those goals and then rise in ranks.

No matter the arrangement at a company, knowing how to attain the next-level position requires relationships and communication to learn the rules, panelists said.

Business leaders can help their workers with those relationships through mentorships and sponsorships, giving them the insider knowledge to earn a promotion. However, leaders should also acknowledge that the predominant senior male leadership has a natural inclination to mentor those who are like themselves, said PwC’s Sawdye. Unless leadership changes that networking habit, women will continue to work outside of the leadership circle.

One tool the panelist said could help in this area is technology. Availability of technology allows for people to gain mentors outside of their own offices, expanding the pool of available leaders to help workers navigate their company’s hierarchy and build relationships digitally, Sawdye said.

Also, digital databases can help workers play on a more level field at work, Sawdye added. By using platforms that highlight skills of individuals and the internal opportunities available at a company, there’s more transparency for all workers at a company.

“Instead of using the old boys’ network to connect opportunities and people, let’s get the entire organization of people out there and all the opportunities out there so that there’s a real exchange that gives everybody a level playing field,” Sawdye said. By using these tools instead of shortcutting through relationships, people are less likely to gain a job for which they’re unqualified.

“I think we can’t discount the power of technology as a voice for this conversation,” Workday’s Christensen added. People management technology allows for the tracking of data. Business leaders can look at their diversity measures and pay equity scales to see their progress and pitfalls when it comes to helping women at work.

“It takes the emotion out of the conversation,” she said. “It’s not just my opinion anymore; this is what the data is telling me.”

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email