How 1 healthcare company doubled the number of women among its C-suite ranks

In 2007, there were five times as many men as women in officer roles at biotechnology company Genentech, and female directors left twice as often as men. To improve the rate of women in leadership positions and mitigate the number of women leaving the company, Genentech implemented several strategies to achieve gender equity, according to a June 2 report in Harvard Business Review.

At the start of Genentech's gender equity journey, there were nearly equal numbers of men and women among all employees. Women made up 44 percent of managers and supervisors and 41 percent of directors, but just 16 percent of officers.

Four ways Genentech improved gender equity:

  1. Launch research and grow talent within the company.
    The company applied the same rigor it would use in scientific research to understanding why women were leaving and not being promoted to executive positions. Through surveys, focus groups and objective data, the company discovered that women felt they had fewer opportunities than men to take on challenging assignments, they were less likely to receive performance feedback, and their ideas were less likely to be heard and recognized.

    Genentech launched a professional support group for women in the company, which hosted career development and networking events. A mentorship program matched senior leaders with women to provide career advice and networking opportunities.

  2. Be open to accountability.
    The biotech company established a baseline with the research it conducted, which it could measure year over year. In 2019, they began sharing the data with employees to improve transparency and allow them to hold the company accountable.

  3. Change the company narrative.
    The company embedded the narrative of gender equity into its corporate narrative. Repetition bred retention, and retention bred habit, the report said. Soon, all of the leaders were on board to torpedo toward the gender equity mission.

  4. Provide measurable proof of success.
    Inching toward gender equity happens over time and requires significant shifts in behavior, perspectives and processes. Since 2007, Genentech doubled the percentage of female officers and increased the pool of women qualified for senior leadership positions by 50 percent. However, the company's work is far from over. Genentech recognizes there is a gap in the number of people of color in leadership positions.The company is broadening its diversity and inclusion efforts to ensure its leadership team and workforce reflects the world around it.

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