Gender Parity: Lead the Way, HR

For a study to find that women are underrepresented at the chief-executive level is not at all surprising. That much we already knew.

New research from Korn Ferry provides more evidence of the disparity between men and women in the executive ranks. The same study, however, finds one segment of the C-suite where something resembling gender parity may actually exist: HR.

Overall, the Los Angeles-based people and organizational advisory firm’s analysis found just 5 percent of the CEOs at the top 1,000 U.S. companies by revenue were women; a percentage that remains flat from 2015.

By industry, the highest percentage of female CEOs can be found in the consumer sector (9 percent), followed by energy (6 percent), financial and technology (both 5 percent), industrial (4 percent) and life sciences (less than 1 percent).

The numbers aren’t much higher throughout the C-suite. For instance, just 12 percent of CFOs across industries are women, while 19 percent of women occupy the chief information officer’s seat, and 29 percent of chief marketing officers at the top 1,000 revenue-generating companies are female.

You get the idea. There aren’t a lot of women holding the top spots within the top organizations. Except in HR, where 55 percent of CHROs are women, according to the Korn Ferry study.

“In our research, we find that women rank higher on key competencies needed in the CHRO role, such as collaboration and negotiation skills, the ability to balance multiple constituencies and an appreciation for the dynamics of the overall business,” says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise, in a press release highlighting the firm’s recent C-suite analysis.

“Interestingly, other Korn Ferry research shows a distinct correlation between CEO and CHRO competencies, but women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should.”

In the same statement, Peggy Hazard laments the glacial pace of progress on this front.

“Study after study shows that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results,” says Hazard, managing principal at Korn Ferry. “Having more women at the top is a priority for our clients. However, the needle is not moving as quickly as any of us would like to see.”

A collaborative effort will be required to get things moving more briskly in the right direction, in HR and elsewhere, she says.

“In every industry we analyzed, there’s a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women to the C-suite. This is a joint responsibility of the women to seek out experiences and development that can help them lead and succeed, and for organizations to create an environment where women feel empowered to progress in their careers at all levels.”