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Diversity in the Boardroom: How do you develop the right approach to support women and diversity?

9 October 2013



How do you develop the right approach to support women and diversity in organisations? PA Consulting Group raised this issue with senior executives from global organisations including Honeywell, Citi and White & Case LLP at an executive roundtable discussion in New York on 2 October.

“Culture is the key factor for supporting women and diversity in organisations”, said Julie Redfield, talent management expert at PA Consulting Group. Julie shared that culture always comes up – if culture is not supportive, even if you have a good pipeline programme, the organisation is setting women up for failure.

The discussion included ideas on programmes that would allow a woman to develop relationships, how coaches and mentorships could provide connections, how minds could be opened to leadership ideas, and how they would be allowed to grow their capabilities.

Said Redfield: “A critical difference is made when leadership programmes let you develop yourself and know your own potential. We find that these programmes are key to creating a good environment for women to succeed”.

“For women leaders to emerge as a viable resource, work must be done to mitigate where the strategy clashes with the culture,” said Redfield. “More likely than not, if women aren’t succeeding in your organisation, the culture is trying to tell you something about your own leadership philosophy”.

Without a culture that provides mentorship programmes for women, it is still incumbent on the junior staff to find those relationships themselves. It’s about choosing a role model— and it doesn’t matter if your mentor is a man or women.  For men, this is less of an issue because there are more natural pairings. To help resolve this issue, men need to look to sponsor women proactively. 

“What our research has shown us, and the discussion validated, is that the culture of a company will trump any type of diversity or development strategy, almost every time. And there are good reasons for this”, observed Redfield. “Every company’s identity — the body of capabilities and practices that distinguish it and make it effective — is grounded in the way people think and behave. Deeply embedded cultural influences tend to persist; they change far more slowly than marketplace factors, and cause significant morale problems when not addressed effectively”.

It can be simple to say that the real divide between men and women is flexibility/work life balance, but upon surveying employees, PA Consulting Group findings showed that both genders felt that having meaningful, positive development discussions with their manager was a top reason to stay at a company.

Redfield noted that what creates a successful, inclusive organisational culture is not merely having women on the senior executive roster, but rather is also allowing and integrating those traits into the organisation that have long been typically thought of as ‘female’ – such as: collaboration, listening skills, focus on development and valuing different opinions.

According to a research report from PA Consulting Group, Diversity in the Boardroom, an organisation’s performance is inherently linked to inclusive culture and gender diversity. The report is available here.


For more information on PA's expertise in talent management, click here.

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