Diversity & Inclusion

How Verified Skills Can Help Close the Gender Gap in Leadership

Work should work for us all. Instead, we’re seeing women report increased feelings of exhaustion and burnout. Women still get paid less than men. Women — especially women of color — receive promotions at a lower rate than men. And women in senior leadership are 1.5 times more likely to consider downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce compared to men at the same level.

Pandemic-related layoffs disproportionately affected women, while childcare and household responsibilities also overwhelmingly fell on their shoulders. As of June, U.S. workforce statistics still show 656,000 fewer women working or actively seeking a new job compared to pre-pandemic numbers. And despite data demonstrating how women in leadership improve a company’s bottom line, women remain far outnumbered in vice president, senior vice president and C-suite roles, accounting for less than 30% of those roles, according to McKinsey research.

The old way of working isn’t working for women. If it were, companies would compensate women fairly for their work, offer internal mobility aligned with women’s accomplishments, and support women at all levels.

What can be done to clear the way for women to succeed? Using verified skills in hiring and promotion decisions can democratize access to the top of the hiring funnel, giving women their long-overdue seat at the table.

Women are Good for Business

Diverse leadership powers successful organizations, improving an organization’s critical decision-making and cultivating a culture of excellence. Research from Deloitte suggests companies with an inclusive culture are twice as likely to reach (or surpass) financial goals and six times more likely to demonstrate innovation.

Businesses with more women in senior leadership positions report greater productivity, higher profitability and improved organization-wide performance, according to a report from Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre. That report also found that a 10% increase in women as top-level managers led to an average 6.6% rise in market value. And companies with female CEOs experienced a 5% increase in market value.

McKinsey’s latest “Women in the Workplace” report, the largest study of women in corporate America, found that, compared to their male counterparts, women leaders are more willing to:

  • Support teams and drive stronger outcomes.
  • Champion diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
  • Help employees manage workloads and work-life balance challenges.
  • Actively work to prevent employee burnout.
  • Provide emotional support and check in on employee well-being.

Women leaders also drive better employee engagement, saving their organizations an average of $1.43 million for every 1,000 employees. And women disproportionately lead with the most critical of all leadership traits: empathy. A lack of women in leadership — and an uptick in women leaders considering stepping back from their work — threatens two components of successful companies: female viewpoints and gender diversity.

The Broken Rung

What holds women back from moving up? The “broken rung” persistently plagues women’s efforts to advance. Early promotions are critical to success, and women are less likely than men to get promoted from entry-level to the first level of management, stalling progress toward higher-level leadership roles. For every 100 men promoted to a manager role, only 86 women are promoted. Representation of women in leadership continues to decrease as men rise through the ranks.

For many women, the bottom rung is broken, making it impossible for them to climb to the top.

Digital Credentials are the Key

The trend toward skills-based hiring, and the growing use of digital credentials, are powerful forces to combat workplace gender bias. Credly data shows a 400% increase in employers issuing digital credentials to recognize employees’ on-the-job skills within the last year.

By offering women a way to secure and demonstrate the skills needed to advance, digital credentials can help reverse the damage of decades of broken rungs. Using digital credentials  also allows employers to close the pay equity gap with skills-based standards for determining salaries, promotions and raises.

The effectiveness of skills-based hiring hinges on an important distinction: verifying those skills. Candidates can write anything on a resume, claiming knowledge and competencies they don’t possess. Verified digital credentials are the key to effective skills-based hiring because they:

  • Represent skills in a consistent, durable, portable way.
  • Enable a common understanding of how skills apply to jobs at every level.
  • Empower employers to reduce bias in their talent management decision-making.

By recognizing digital credentials as part of skills-based hiring efforts, employers can work to mend ongoing ruptures in the promotion pipeline, giving women a vehicle to communicate their skills and level the playing field. Hiring based on skills also eliminates the possibility of implicit gender bias working its way into the hiring process.

Verified skills represent a path forward for women seeking internal mobility opportunities. But it’s not just a path forward for women. It’s a path forward for any organization seeking better leadership, more financial success and a more highly engaged workforce. This progress is only possible when women can clearly communicate the skills they’ve acquired, companies recognize those skills, and hiring and promotion decisions reflect their value.

Bailey Showalter is Vice President of Talent Solutions at Credly, a business of Pearson, where she is focused on growth initiatives that help people connect to the right opportunity at the right time on the basis of their verified skills. Previously, Showalter led the Incubator Global Commercialization team at Indeed, where she brought new products to market from conception, validated product-market fit, and launched them to global scale. Showalter is particularly invested in helping employers find better signals for hiring and deploying talent, especially over outdated approaches that perpetuate systemic bias. She holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature and a Minor in Global Culture and Commerce from the University of Virginia.

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