Most Firms Lack Women Leadership Development Program

March 3, 2011 ( – Seventy-one percent of organizations polled do not have a clearly defined strategy for developing women for leadership roles, according to the new Mercer study.

Forty-seven percent of employers surveyed globally indicate that their organizations do not offer any activities or programs targeted to the development needs of women leaders. While 21% of organiza­tions said they offer some activities or programs, another 6% of organizations said they are planning to add programs and activities in the future.

“Although many multinational organizations value gender diversity in leadership, they are focused on broader diversity objectives and not specifically on accelerating the development and pipeline of qualified women leaders,” said Pat Milligan, President of Mercer’s Human Capital consulting business, in a news release.

Forty-four percent of survey respondents said their organizations support develop­ment to a moderate extent, while just 19% said their organizations support development to a great extent. Organizations in the U.S. and Asia Pacific showed a higher than average response with 27% supporting the development of women to a great extent, while organizations in EMEA were below average at 14%.

The top programs listed by organizations worldwide that are currently offered specifically targeting the needs of women leaders were flexible work arrangements (66%), diversity sourcing and recruiting (44%), coaching (44%), and mentoring (43%).  In the U.S. and Asia Pacific region, organizations showed a higher than average response of 69% for providing flexible work arrangements, while Canadian organizations showed a lower response (60%). Additionally, more U.S. and Asia Pacific organizations provide coaching (51% and 45%, respectively) compared with 42% of organizations in EMEA and 37% in Canada.

Notably, the same four programs listed by survey respondents as being offered specifically for women  were also identified as the most effective in developing women leaders. 

Women Leadership Concerns  

When asked about their level of concern regarding various aspects of women in leadership, the top three issues ranked “very concerned” were having enough women in the leadership pipeline (21%), retaining women once they reach leadership levels (20%), and having women develop the full range of skills necessary for a senior leadership position (19%).

Organizations in EMEA and the Asia Pacific region also cited having work-life balance programs that attract and retain women as a top concern (23% and 20%, respectively), compared with organizations in Canada and the US (16% and 15%, respectively).

According to Mercer’s survey, the top three factors preventing women in their organizations’ leadership talent pools from advancing to the next level were work-life balance and lack of executive sponsor (tied at 42%) and insufficient breadth of experience (29%). Organizations in Asia Pacific and EMEA also listed willingness to relocate as a leading factor (36% and 27%, respectively).

The survey, conducted with Talent Management and Diversity Management magazines in December 2010, includes responses from more than 1,800 human resource, talent management, and diversity leaders at organizations throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and Asia Pacific.