Having worked with a wide range of clients helping them increase the number of women in senior roles, we are often asked for our top tips. Based on research and our hands-on experience there are four key actions that stand out.

Buy-in from the CEO and executive committee

Improving gender diversity is only possible with the full support of the CEO and their executive committee. This means more than just talking and saying gender diversity is important. All the leadership team should behave and act according to the changes in their processes and policies (eg using a gender balanced shortlist when interviewing new candidates), personally sponsor one or two senior females with potential, be prepared to show critics the benefits for business and genuinely take every opportunity to get involved in the debate.

Set clear targets and monitor progress

As the saying does, ‘What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done’. Aim for realistic targets and share successes so everyone can see that progress is happening.

Start at the top

Although some organisations start at the bottom of the organisation, we believe you have to start at the top. This is based on research which shows that women will leave or won’t go for promotion if they don’t see other women succeeding. 48% of women who aspire to the most senior jobs cite lack of role models as a key barrier (Catalyst 2004). Another study also found there simply aren’t enough female business leaders and suggested they are not necessarily natural role models for younger cohorts (MWM Consulting 2014). That’s why we developed Top Flight, our flagship programme which helps women take that last difficult step to Executive Committee and CEO roles.

Embed sponsorship

Many organisations have implemented robust mentoring programmes however, evidence shows that high-potential women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored compared with their male peers (HBR 2010). Sponsorship is key to achieving promotion and even the willingness to step forward. It doesn’t have to be a big initiative. Why not start with a small group of your most senior leaders becoming sponsors for women with potential?

For advice on any of these areas, or on building an executive pipeline with talented women, get in touch on 020 7636 9002 or at ana@execpipeline.com.