Survey shows practices associated with women’s leadership

Formal and informal women’s networks and flexible work arrangements were among the practices most strongly associated with having higher percentages of women in managerial and executive roles in Iowa businesses.

Results of the survey – a collaborative effort between Iowa Women Lead Change, the Nexus Executive Women’s Alliance, Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, and the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business – were announced this month as phase II of the “Iowa Women in Business Leadership” study.

Phase II of the study includes feedback from human resource executives in Iowa companies on the topics of gender-focused development practices, general development practices and valued leader characteristics that are associated with having higher percentages of women in managerial and executive roles. Survey responses were received from 93 organizations, with the following demographics:

  • Size ranging from 5 to 159,000 employees.
  • Nearly half of the companies had 100-500 employees.
  • The majority of respondents were from private for-profit organizations (56%), but public (11%), nonprofit (20%) and government (13%) organizations were also represented.
  • The responding organizations had an average of 43% women managers and 37% women executives, which is higher than the 22% average of women in Iowa business leadership positions in general.

Major conclusions from phase II of the study include:

  • Companies with gender-focused development practices generally have more women in executive and managerial roles. Having a formal or an informal women’s network was the practice most strongly associated with having women in these roles.
  • Companies with general development practices also have more women in executive and managerial roles. Flexible work arrangements were most strongly associated with having women in managerial and executive roles. Formal job rotation programs were also significantly associated with having more women in executive roles.
  • Companies that value assertive leaders have fewer women in managerial roles. Companies that value communicative, inspiring, compassionate and sensitive leaders have more women in executive roles.

Phase I the of “Iowa Women in Business Leadership” study was released in October 2014 and includes statistics on women in leadership roles in all sectors of business across Iowa – nonprofit, for-profit, public and privately held companies. The statistics are broken down by business sector, allowing the data to be viewed through the all-important lens of where women are working.

“Phase II of the study does not have a lot of surprises,” said IWLC CEO Diane Ramsey. “In many ways, Iowa is similar to other states across the nation with regard to the number of women business executives. But one thing is crystal clear: without gender-focused development practices and general development practices within companies, women fall behind in leadership ascension and retention. Formal and informal women’s networks are an essential component to having more women in managerial and executive roles.”

In addition, Catt Center director Dianne Bystrom noted that women within businesses can start their own formal or informal networks and, thus, contribute to their own professional development and leadership success. “Our finding on the importance of networks to women’s leadership roles within organizations demonstrates how female employees can work together to support each other and improve their pathways toward promotion,” she said.

Amy Colbert, associate professor in the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, also noted that only one-third of survey respondents said their organizations have formal or informal women’s networks. “Organizations that want to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles should consider supporting women’s networks. Building effective relationships across the organization gives women access to the developmental resources and sponsorship that they need to move into and succeed in leadership roles.”

"This study has provided us with solid information and actionable items that can help women achieve managerial and executive roles in Iowa businesses,” said Leisha Barcus, president of Nexus. “Supporting women with professional networks is something we can all do to move the needle."

Other practices that were associated, but not significantly so, with having more women in leadership roles include: diversity or inclusion initiatives with a focus on gender; paid maternity leave of absence; paid paternity leave of absence; formal mentoring; work-at-home, telework, reduced workload or part-time work; and an on-site day care facility or financial support for child care.

For more information on phase I and phase II of the “Iowa Women in Business Leadership” study, visit the IWLC website.