Data to the rescue: Investing in (female) employees

By Ineke Ceder and Sumru Erkut

Can companies successfully align attention to their bottom line with the current urgent calls for wider diversity and inclusion? The authors argue that thoughtfully collecting data on workplace climate and letting affinity groups address any identified hurdles towards sustainable employment are effective routes to remaining relevant.


Having been writing about issues that inhibit women’s careers, we discussed1 most recently how unpredictable schedules disproportionately hurt women because they continue to be the main care providers in most families. The absence of workplace policies and provisions that allow women to streamline their home and work responsibilities stands in the way of their upward movement and career sustainability.

Our industry of focus2 has been the U.S. non-profit regional theater world where only about 27% of leadership is in the hands of women. Our surveys and interviews didn’t merely uncover the hurdle of unpredictable scheduling. We also identified a lack of trust in women’s leadership capabilities and a dearth of mentors who are able to provide women with the needed support. These and other issues turned the U.S. non-profit regional theater — which was started by women — into a field predominantly overseen by men. While our analyses focussed on this one performing arts field, our findings and recommendations are relevant to other industries seeking to address gender parity in leadership.

The case for diversity3 in business and leadership has been made; we already know that diversity is good for the bottom line, and consider this debate addressed. While in some industries there are effects of both glass-ceiling barriers and of pipeline issues on gender parity in their leadership, this was not the case in our study. In theater, most number-two positions are filled by women. Therefore, when addressing obstacles to full representation of women in leadership, we are driven to focus primarily on tackling organisational and cultural hurdles that women face on the leadership ladder and on their quest to break through the glass ceiling, rather than on what women themselves need to change in their preparation for the top position.

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About the Authors

Ineke Ceder is a Research Associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has contributed to studies focussed on women’s leadership, adolescent development, sex education, and racial/ethnic identity. Her recent collaboration with Sumru Erkut on women’s leadership in theater informed multiple initiatives that are driving leadership change.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her research focusses on racial/ethnic diversity, gender equity in leadership, and development across the life course. Her work found that three or more women on a corporate board of directors constitute a critical mass which improves boards’ functioning.


1. Ceder I, Erkut S. “Unpredictable schedules disproportionately hurt women’s careers”. Harvard Business Review. January 8, 2018.

2. Erkut S, Ceder I. “Women’s leadership in resident theaters: Final report”. Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, 2016.

3. Hunt V, Layton D, Prince S. “Why diversity matters”. McKinsey & Company. January 2015.

4. Slovak J. “The power of a survey: Nike faces fallout from male-dominated culture”. Forbes. April 30, 2018.

5. Barnett RC, Rivers C. “How the “new discrimination” is holding women back”. Catalyst. April 17, 2014.

6. Mohr TS. “Why women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified”. Harvard Business Review. August 25, 2014.

7. Cecchi-Dimeglio P. “How gender bias corrupts performance reviews, and what to do about it”. Harvard Business Review. April 12, 2017.


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