Gender diversity at companies leads to markedly better performance, yet most executives don’t have a clear plan for achieving it. Instead, they use a trial-and-error approach, launching one program after another and seeing what sticks. To avoid wasting time, money, and energy, company leaders need to understand which initiatives lead to real, sustainable results. Those are among the key findings of a new report by The Boston Consulting Group titled Getting the Most from Your Diversity Dollars.

The report analyses survey data from 17,500 male and female employees at organisations around the world, along with interviews of 200 senior leaders. The results show a consistent mismatch between the effort level of companies and the actual progress those efforts generate. For example, 91% of women said they were aware of gender-diversity initiatives at their company, yet only 27% said that they had benefited from those initiatives.

Men and Women See the Problem Differently

A central challenge is that senior men and women start with different perspectives on what matters. Men tend to think the biggest challenges lie in recruitment, while women point to retention and advancement as the biggest issues. “Given that the leadership teams at most companies are predominantly male, those differences can lead to a misallocation of resources,” says Matt Krentz, a senior partner at BCG and coauthor of the report. “Instead, it’s important for leaders to understand which investments can have the greatest impact.”


Baseline Measures Versus Hidden Gems

To resolve these differences, company leaders must treat gender diversity the same as any other strategic objective, focusing on a small number of measures that are likely to yield the biggest payoff. The report looks at 39 initiatives and ranks them by their effectiveness, to determine which ones deliver the biggest payoff—and which are likely to fall short.

For example, many companies have established baseline measures such as mentoring programs for women who show high potential. Yet mentoring often depends on face-to-face meetings that can be informal and sporadic. Although such meetings can sometimes help women navigate a tough spell at work, they often aren’t enough to change a woman’s career path. Similarly, offering a one-time training session for managers or adding diversity to executive compensation targets tends to have far less lasting effect than leaders might think.

By contrast, certain other measures are hidden gems that senior male executives often underrate but women strongly endorse. For example, increasing the visibility of role models who have come up through the organisation and engaging male employees in diversity efforts can make a significant impact, at little cost to the organisation. Another promising approach is to provide additional support to women at “moments of truth” in their career, such as when they return from maternity leave, take an international post, or receive a promotion that gives them significantly more responsibility.

“These are critical junctures in a career path,” says Miki Tsusaka, a senior partner at BCG and coauthor of the report. “They’re short periods where companies can make a targeted investment to help women, and those investments can pay off disproportionately.”


The report also highlights case studies of global companies that have successfully put certain effective measures in place, including pharmaceutical giant GSK, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Unilever, Bank Muscat, and PepsiCo. In addition, BCG is publishing 11 reports that focus on country-specific findings, for markets such as the US, the UK, Spain, Australia, and the Middle East.