It’s a universally acknowledged truth that diverse leadership teams make for more successful companies. And yet, at the beginning of 2020, women held just 38 percent of manager-level positions, while men held 62 percent (McKinsey). And we all know what has happened since then. While women in higher-ranking positions have not been impacted quite as much by the Feminine Recession as entry-level working women, it’s still abundantly clear that they do not have the influence that men do when it comes to creating equitable company-wide policies and allocating funds to initiatives that support women employees.

To really see the operational benefits of gender diversity and create a workplace where women are included and equal, women need representation at every level of your organization. So here’s our question: does your boardroom match your brand?

No More Excuses

There are several reasons why women and other underrepresented groups are particularly important to have on management and leadership teams as we move forward in 2021. At the most basic level, it’s a critical step towards accountability for executive-level decisions and policies. So not only do you need women in your C-suite, you need to ensure that their voices carry as much weight and receive as much respect as everyone else’s. 

Too often we see that “cultural” change initiatives are not reflected in the policies and practices that the difference between a hostile work environment and an inclusive one: women are penalized for taking family leave, or “mommy tracked.” Employee resource groups do not receive the funding that other initiatives do. Women employees are still paid less. When women have an equal voice in company leadership, these unfortunate issues may still arise —but there will be at least one influential leader present who is likely to witness these effects and ensure that checks and balances are created to keep the problem from getting worse.

More and more, company culture and distribution of power are affecting the ways that clients and the general public perceive the brands they support in various ways. Even in business situations, those with purchasing power want to spend their money with companies that are committed to ethical practices and equitable opportunities. Before applying to work for you, potential employees want to know that they will be valued for their skills and performance, but also as people. After the global crisis that we have all been through in the last year, people want to know that an emergency situation will not be the end of their career. 

Cultivating Gender Diverse Leadership

As we have learned, it will take some additional changes in company policies to ensure that those new leaders are truly included and able to either thrive in their positions or keep moving up the corporate ladder in the long-term. There’s still a “broken rung” in the corporate ladder for women and diverse candidates, and it must be fixed one company at a time. Let’s look at a couple of different strategies for mending that broken rung:

Start with Middle Management

HR expert Angela Colon-Mahoney recommends building a talent pipeline from which diverse top leadership can be selected in the future. “As these mid-level executives have ‘grown up’ within the organization, they will already be deeply versed in the company’s culture and values and primed for senior positions,” she writes in Black Enterprise. These diverse managers can in turn identify and mentor younger employees. Colon-Mahoney points out that you will likely need to find new recruiting partnerships and talent pipelines for this strategy to be effective. 

Trust the Experts

For companies that don’t have the budget or the time to invest in your next generation of leaders right now, hiring diverse consultants or bringing fractional experts into your C-suite will bring those missing perspectives in while providing the value of talented, experienced professionals at a fraction of the cost. Almost any position on your executive board can be filled with a fractional specialist temporarily or for the long-term, but putting a D&I-savvy marketer in the CMO role comes with the added advantage of creating ethical messaging for today’s diverse audiences.

When your employees sense that certain identities are at a disadvantage in their workplace, they start to shut down parts of who they are. With the number of hours they will spend in service to your company, they deserve the autonomy to be fully and completely themselves. Diversity, equity and inclusion are no longer ambiguous corporate speak, but measurable outcomes that your employees and your customers have come to expect. 

Tomorrow’s corporate leaders are reserving seats for women and other underrepresented groups at every proverbial table in their organizations, including that big, shiny slab in the boardroom. It’s time to give more women a seat at your table, you know who to call.