Why Kamala Harris Is NOT A Silver Bullet: How To Ensure Consistent Female Representation

Why Kamala Harris Is NOT A Silver Bullet: How To Ensure Consistent Female Representation

2021 has got off to a great start for women in politics. On January 20th, Kamala Harris became the first female, first black and first Asian-American US vice president.

Then, on January 26th, Estonia became the only country led by all women, with Kersti Kaljulaid (elected president) and Kaja Kallas (elected prime minister) currently in charge.

At present, four of the five Scandinavian countries have female prime ministers.

While this is great news for all women, it would be naive to be overly optimistic.

Over the years, many countries have had female political leaders and yet the change expected to happen, the dream of equal representation, never came to fruition. For example, Golda Meir remains the only female prime minister of Israel (1969–74), and it took over 25 years after Margaret Thatcher reluctantly resigned before the UK welcomed its second female prime minister, Theresa May.

When it comes to female representation in politics, a lot of focus continues to be at the very top, at the senior-level positions, and it’s the same in the world of business.

However, only focusing on the top isn’t enough. Celebrating the success of the few women who make it to those senior positions isn’t the answer. Kamala Harris is not a silver bullet.

Stopping the anomalies

There has been a huge push for more gender balance at board level in organisations across the world. In September 2020, the FTSE 350 reached its goal of  33% of its companies’ board members being female.

Although this was a great achievement, if you go down just one level, to the executive committee, the percentage of women falls to 17%.

So, with only 17% female executives, how are we going to ensure a strong pipeline of senior female leaders?

Kamala Harris becoming vice president of the US is a fantastic achievement, but where is the next female leader coming from? And the one after that? To ensure female leaders aren’t anomalies, more must be done.

Investing in women earlier

When you look more closely at the background of female board and executive committee members, there’s a huge predominance of HR, legal or marketing experiences – which tend not to be seen as CEO material.

One of the reasons for this is that to be a CEO, it is considered key to have profit and loss (P&L) management skills, yet in the FTSE 350, 90% of P&L roles on executive committees are held by men. So, from what the statistics tell us, the chances of women becoming a CEO one day with their current experience is unlikely.

This is one of the reasons why, in 2020, only 5% of the FTSE 100 companies were led by women. (Fun fact: there were more CEOs named Peter than there were women!)

To fix this, we need to inspire women much earlier in their careers. We need to be clear on what their choice of career path leads to, encourage them to realise what is possible and open up new avenues for them to gain the experience necessary to reach the top.

Changing the dynamic

P&L experience is seen as vital to becoming a CEO, but these areas of business are amongst those with the lowest percentages of women. By empowering women earlier, three or four years after graduation, this dynamic will start to shift.

Having been there myself, I know it can be done. Once you’ve had that experience and understanding, it can never be taken away from you. You’ve earned your stripes, paid your dues and that is very empowering.

Which is why we’ve got to start doing more, because if we don’t do it now, for women in their 20s–30s, nothing will have changed in 20 years’ time.

The real power of a business comes from within

In many ways, businesses are like volcanoes – all of the power comes from within, way down from the top.  That’s where the true power of a business lies, and to see results, things need to start moving from within the heart of an organisation.

Without momentum, that volcano is just going to sit there, lying dormant. How can organisations ensure a steady pipeline of future female leaders? One answer that almost every piece of research agrees upon is the need to invest in their women at mid-level.

Educating leaders

Let’s be clear – this is not about pointing the finger at anyone in particular. There’s no bad intention here.

With that being said, an education process is needed in order to ensure that leaders have the insights and tools so that women get the right guidance to become the great future leaders they can be.

The EPIC model

At Elevate Talent we aim to provide women with this sort of guidance, and we have created a model for us to achieve this. Following our research, we have discovered four key ingredients for career advancement:

  1. Exposure
  2. Performance
  3. Impact
  4. Conscious

We call this the EPIC model. While this is true for both men and women, the challenges they face are not the same, the approach is not the same, so therefore the solution cannot be the same.

Women bring many strengths, and that’s what we focus on at Elevate Talent. We show women how to leverage their strengths so they can get the best out of their own unique abilities.

Then they can truly decide their leadership journey. By equipping them with the right tools and empowering them to use those tools, it now becomes their choice.

So, whilst it is fantastic that we are seeing progress with women leaders in 2021, we are far from being out of the woods.

If you have anything you’d like to add on women in business, please do leave a comment in the box below. While one senior woman breaking through is cause for celebration, history has shown us that this alone cannot be expected to move the dial.

For more information on how to build a strong pipeline of leadership ready female talent, please get in touch by emailing us at [email protected].

Alternatively, for the latest updates on Elevate Talent and the work we are doing, please follow us on Linkedin.