Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


August 20, 2018

CEO Commitment and Engagement Makes the Difference

What you pay attention to as the CEO, your entire organization pays attention to. It sounds obvious, but deep CEO commitment and engagement has often been a missing component in breaking through institutional obstacles to advance women leaders.

The 2017 Women in the Workplace Study by McKinsey & Company and (including 32 visionary food companies) found that less than half of employees believe gender diversity is a top priority for their CEO, even though three-quarters of companies claim it.


Show us you mean it

There’s a gap between what companies think they do and what employees actually experience at work, according to McKinsey. More than 70% of companies say they are committed to gender diversity, but less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes. More than 90% of companies report using clear, objective criteria for hiring and promotions, yet only about half of women believe they have equal opportunities for growth.

When company leaders are active, visible and involved in the process, organization transformation around gender diversity is far more likely to succeed. According to a 2014 McKinsey Global Survey, when organization leaders were seen as personally modeling the behavior changes they were asking employees to make, respondents were five times more likely to report successful organizational transformation.

“The CEO has to walk the talk,” said Denny Marie Post, CEO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc., and WFF Chair-Elect. “We have to make increasing gender diversity part of our team’s objectives and then measure and celebrate our progress and not shy away from that.”


How CEOs drive gender equity

The key is for CEOs to get out in front as gender equity champions and for the executive team to intervene across a broad range of factors that both help women become better leaders and create workplaces that enable them to thrive. Start here:

  • Establish company-wide and business unit goals related to women’s representation and advancement and tie them to performance indicators and executive incentives. “Every year we conduct our talent planning sessions where we take the time to assess performance and potential,” explained Denny’s CEO John Miller. “We identify high potential employees, especially females and minorities, so we can encourage their professional growth, upward mobility, and involvement in organizations like WFF.  Each lead executive is responsible for setting the tone and working with HR in conducting these critical planning sessions.”
  • Create an inclusive culture (see May CEO Connections) that values the unique contributions of all team members and actively rewards inclusive behaviors. “What leaders do and where they spend their time sends a message about what’s important. If leaders talk about the culture and live the organization’s values the employees will know it’s important and it matters,” said CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc., Greg Creed, speaking to industry leaders at WFF’s Executive Summit LEAD THE WAY: Strategies and Insights to Advance Gender Equity.“As humans, we listen and respond to stories,” Creed added. “Storytelling is a good vehicle for cascading culture and talking about what’s important and what matters. The more you can tell a story, the more it will get remembered. And the more that story will get re-told.”
  • Make and broadly share the business case for gender equity. Research shows that the more team members understand how gender diversity positively impacts the bottom line, the more invested they become. Yet, McKinsey’s Women in the Food Industry report found only 38% of men and 40% of women in the industry believe that their company pursues gender diversity because it will improve business results.
  • Embrace flexible working arrangements wherever possible that help meet the needs of working parents, caregivers and millennials who place a premium on work-life balance and workplace flexibility.
  • Create pay equity in your own organization and urge your suppliers and business partners to do the same.
  • Share data about your progress. Leaders are often reluctant to share the numbers, but tracking your progress helps motivate team members and enables you to tie results to compensation.
  • Keep asking the tough questions. McKinsey stresses the need to keep the conversation going about gender issues among executive teams, asking:
    • Where are the women in our talent pipeline?
    • What skills are we helping women build?
    • Do we provide sponsors as well as role models?
    • How much are our policies helping?

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