THE BLOG
05/19/2014 02:29 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2014

Gender Diversity and Those Darn 'Mindsets'

John Wildgoose via Getty Images

Since 2007, McKinsey & Company has issued an annual report entitled "Women Matter" about the progress of women in the business world. There are inspiring "Women Matter" video clips summarizing their research. McKinsey's recently-published (2013) report hones in on WHY businesses are still not seeing gender diversity in senior management. (Their 2011 report documented the importance of women in the U.S. economy. The 2012 report, based on a study of 235 European companies and interviews with 200 senior women, focused on what companies are doing that works and does not work to assure women can make it to the top.) Key factors in successful gender diversity initiatives, according to these studies, are:

• Visible top-level commitment,
• Careful tracking of women through the pipeline, AND
• "Understanding and addressing unacknowledged mindsets" (emphasis mine).

The 2013 McKinsey report concludes that women are just as ambitious to reach the top as are men (thanks for busting that myth). But women are much less certain they will make it there. The reasons are not those internal barriers identified by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In. McKinsey concludes that "Collective, cultural factors weigh more than twice as much" as individual factors.

Yes, it is important to understand how women hold themselves back. Yes, we must coach women to promote themselves and communicate their ambition clearly. (Women often express ambition differently.) But the McKinsey report found that women who do these things still have less certainty they will make it to the top than their male counterparts. The reason is "collective, cultural factors." Organizational culture reflects the "mindsets" of its influential leaders. So we must uproot those "mindsets," bring them out into the light and give leaders new mindsets that promote rather than undermine women reaching their potential.

What are those mindsets? McKinsey names several, including the belief that women do not want long hours or travel or cannot take negative feedback. They name some close to our hearts at DifferenceWORKS -- that leaders are "comfortable promoting those who behave like themselves - in other words, men - and fail to appreciate different leadership styles." In this phrase are both the "comfort principle" and "unconscious images" of how leaders look and behave.

The mission of our workshops is to bring awareness to these and other unconscious ways of thinking and the barriers that arise from them. We inspire and help leaders to remove those barriers. What mindsets do you think underlie the slow pace of women's climb to the top?