Accelerate gender parity to drive business success

We need more women in leadership. The business case has been broadcast time and time again, yet progress has been limited. We spoke with Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup’s Chairman and CEO, regarding some of the issues preventing progress, the benefits that gender parity will realise for business, and why leading from the top is vital.

Earlier this year you participated at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting on a panel called ‘Progress to Parity’. Why is this subject so high on the agenda for ManpowerGroup?

The case for women’s participation in the workforce has been long discussed and evaluated, and the data is pretty clear. Having women participate to their full potential at all levels creates better business, better decision making, and better business results.

We’re still not making enough progress though. In a world of work challenged by demographic change and talent shortages, not tapping into that wealth of potential and capability to its fullest extent is going to be a huge problem for countries and it’s going to be a huge problem for organisations.

In relation to ManpowerGroup, it’s absolutely true for us as well. We want to have women at all levels fully participating and well represented. I strongly believe in the capabilities that can be added and that this will drive a much better business outcome. And of course, it’s also the right thing to do.

Here at ManpowerGroup we have been on our own journey of conscious inclusion and when you began as CEO is 2014, you made that a leadership and Group priority. Where would you ideally like to see our organisation in ten years’ time on this issue?

Starting with the end in mind is important, so I’ve laid out our journey in terms of talent development. I would like to see a continuation of our track record of internal succession and imagine two to three internal candidates will be part of our succession plan for my role at some point in the future. And at least one of those internal candidates has to be a woman.

So if that is the outcome that we’re looking for, working backwards, you can start to think about how many people you need at various levels of the organisation, what kind of experience they possess, and how many of these need to be women. We are building a pipeline of capabilities that is diverse and that will achieve our desired end outcome.

The case for women participating at all levels across an organisation seems to be a very simple one, so why do you think there is limited progress in a lot of organisations today with regards to gender parity?

The answer to that question is part of why I think leadership involvement is so important. First of all, the business case is clear; it’s not much up for debate. Most people would say it’s the right thing to do, and many companies already have development programmes in place.

But all these things combined haven’t really moved the needle. There’s only one possible other reason why we’re not making progress as fast as you’d think – and that’s culture. That is essentially a leadership issue – a culture of an unconscious bias. Addressing this as a cultural issue is why leadership from the top is so important. We have to make it clear within the organisation that not having a diverse workforce, including a diverse representation of genders, is not an acceptable situation.

You mentioned this being a leadership issue. Why would you really say it’s a leadership and a business issue, as opposed to maybe an HR issue?

Accessing and deploying talent within an organisation is the most important task that leaders have. For us at ManpowerGroup, we’re a people business. If we have great, well-trained, motivated and capable individuals within our organisation interfacing with candidates and clients, we will have a great business and great business success. It’s one of the most important levers for ManpowerGroup; but equally, this is true for many other organisations. There’s nothing more important that you can be working on as a leader than developing and motivating your people and preparing them for future growth.

And the fact that ManpowerGroup does take the issue of gender parity so seriously and we are really trying to make a difference within our own organisation – how can that really benefit our clients?

When we have great motivated and extremely capable people engaging with our clients, it will drive great business outcomes. They will benefit from our diversity of thought and our capabilities, as we have an organisation that is really representative of the population and the population’s talent potential as well.

Click here to watch the full interview. And for a practical guide to accelerating more women into leadership download our report 7 Steps to Conscious Inclusion.