Women Take Over Parliament

A special UK event shows the depth of women leadership worldwide, but also how far the world has to go to achieve equality.

They’re coming from Gambia, Afghanistan, Senegal, and even the Vatican. Women legislators from around 100 countries are gathering at the British House of Commons for the first ever Women MPs of the World conference.

The visual will likely be striking; so many female parliamentarians from so many countries meeting in the House of Commons, a legislative body that, until 100 years ago, barred woman from voting or serving in it. But the one-day event also, even according to its organizers, highlights the overall lack of female representation in top leadership roles.

“We currently have the highest number of women in history sitting in the House of Commons, but only 32% of MPs are women,” says Penny Mordaunt, MP, the United Kingdom’s minister for women and equalities and co-host of the event. “Worldwide, only 24% of people elected into political office are women. We have a long way to go before we see true equality.”

Indeed, while awareness has been growing in both the public and private sectors, achieving equality has been elusive. “A lot of organizations are coming to us and saying they don’t know how to shift the dial,” says Mary Macleod, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and head of the firm’s Government and Public Enterprise practice in London.

In the UK, only six of the FTSE 250 firms have women CEOs, and women make up only about 6% of all full-time executive roles. Among the 200 largest publicly traded Australian corporations, only 14 are currently led by women. In the United States, only about 12% of senior leadership roles at large US firms are filled by women, for instance. And after this week’s midterm elections, 22% of members of the US Congress and 11% of US senators are women.

Experts say organizations will need a multiple-step approach to get more women in leadership roles. At the top, boards of directors need to make increasing female leadership a major priority. Boards and CEOs have to recognize that having more women in executive leadership is a sign of corporate health, says Jane Stevenson, global leader for CEO Succession at Korn Ferry.

Firms also need to identify high-potential female candidates early in their respective careers. Mentors can help immensely. Of the women CEOs whom Korn Ferry surveyed in its landmark report, “Women CEOs Speak,” 20% said a boss or outside mentor pointed out leadership potential that the woman hadn’t seen in herself.

That was the case for Macleod, who before joining Korn Ferry was a member of parliament herself. She says she got valuable assistance from some well-known Britons. “When I campaigned, it was Margaret Thatcher who came to help me, and it was Theresa May who mentored me.”