I had the great opportunity to talk to McKinsey&Company Italy, through the voice of Cristina Catania, McKinsey & Company Partner, about the potential of gender diversity in the workplace and why it is still a challenge.

Q: Why does gender diversity matter?

A: For the last ten years, McKinsey & Company has researched companies and managers for the “Women Matter” series, building a case for higher representation of women in top management positions and exploring concrete ways to change corporate attitudes toward women in the workplace. Our latest work, “Reinventing the workplace to unlock the potential of gender diversity”, shows once again the correlation between the proportion of women on executive committees and corporate performance, and confirms that the leadership behaviors women typically display can have a positive impact on many dimensions of an organization’s performance and health. In addition, narrowing the gender gap in Western Europe could add USD 2 trillion to the GDP in 2025. Additional GDP comes from the triple effect of the increase in hours worked by women, the higher participation of women in the workforce, and a greater representation of women in high-productivity sectors.

Q: Although many reports highlight the positive correlation between mixed gender teams and the company’s net income, gender diversity at C-levels roles remain a challenge. What are the main constrains?

A: Our research shows that there is overall strong conviction that gender diversity is good for business. Although the share of women in corporate boards and executive committees in Europe has increased by 10 points and 6 points respectively over the last four years, their representation remains far from parity. Two main hurdles emerge from our survey: the quality of the companies’ diversity programs and their implementation along with the management commitment. For example, over 50% of companies surveyed implemented a majority of gender diversity measures, but only half of them are making real progress with diversity. The effectiveness of gender diversity programs was frequently raised, and only 40% of the respondents reported they were “well implemented” in their companies. Regarding management commitment, while a greater number of companies – compared to previous years – claim their CEO and management are committed to improving gender diversity, this commitment is not evident at other levels of their organization (e.g. middle management).

Q: What are the main difficulties that women advancing from middle management to C-suite deal with?

A: Our 2016 “Women Matter” research shows that there are essentially two barriers continuing to prevent women from rising through the ranks: the dominant “anytime” performance model and leadership styles. Within companies, more women than men are penalized by the “anytime performance model”. One out of three respondents to our 2016 research stated that an executive career would affect their ability to “pursue outside interests” (36% for both women and men), and to “be good partners or parents” (34% for women and 32% for men). At par with lack of interest, the first reason respondents gave for not seeking an executive position was that “it could affect their work-life balance”. In addition, many women think that the way they work and lead may not be recognized as efficient in the dominant model as it is not “fit for the top”. Our survey also shows that while most men and women agree women can lead as effectively as men, the men had reservations when asked if they were “strongly convinced” (only 43% versus 84% of women).

Q: How would you encourage women to run for C-levels roles? Can you give them three advice?

A: Firstly, I would encourage women to have more trust in their talent, skills and leadership styles: our surveys show that the leadership styles more frequently used by women are critical to strengthen the work environment, reinforce values, instill accountability, drive results, all of which inspire people and organizations to perform better. Secondly, never stop learning: participating in solid training programs can help women managers strengthen knowledge and tools for their professional growth, as well as share best practices and build networks. Finally, identifying a mentor who then becomes a possible role model can provide guidance in the complexity of an organization.