Recently, the Cranfield School of Management, billed as one of the “oldest and most prestigious business schools in the U.K.,” published The Female FTSE Board Report 2014. The report examines the startling underrepresentation of women in chief executive positions — just four women helm FTSE 100 companies — and further illustrates the failure of leading companies to rely on women to be transformational leaders.

The report is extensive, provocative, and eye opening. Therefore, over a period of four weeks, we’ll examine facets of the report in our series: Inside the Female FTSE Board Report.

Part IV: Critical Recommendations

In our previous posts, we examined the criteria and shortfalls for recruiting female talent at the executive level, effective strategies for leadership development, and tactics for overcoming the biases impeding women from advancing into chief executive positions.

After approaching the issue from several different angles, the report concludes, “Our interviews with leading talent [firm] revealed a wealth of good practices in terms of developing female talent. Such practices are critical in creating a sustainable pipeline of female talent that will enable us to cross and move beyond the ‘finish line’ of 25% women on FTSE boards.”

The following recommendations — presented verbatim from the report — are cited as highly effective tactics for advancing female talent to the highest corporate echelons.

  • Make diversity an explicit focus of talent management processes
    Granular gender metrics are critical in diagnosing the strengths and blockages in the pipeline of female talent. Aspirational gender targets need to be engrained in specific talent management processes.
  • Hold senior leaders accountable for supporting women’s careers
    Creating opportunities for talented women should become a standard of good leadership, translated into specific performance targets and linked to remuneration.
  • Translate unconscious bias training into practice
    Challenging gendered assumptions on an on-going basis in the enactment of all talent management processes. Gender bias cannot be systemically tackled only by delivering unconscious bias training to individual managers.
  • Nurture female talent thorough leadership development programs
    Effective programs enable women to develop leadership self-efficacy and find an authentic leadership style, but also engage their mentors and sponsors.
  • Make female talent visible through sponsorship, mentoring and exposure to senior leaders, to ensure that women are ‘on the radar’ of key decision-makers. Powerful sponsors are critical in accelerating women’s careers; sponsorship for women should be further enabled.
  • Adopt a holistic approach and embed conversations about female talent in on-going business processes, as opposed to addressing female talent only in annual reviews.

Furthermore, Insigniam believes these recommendations must be championed by executive sponsors, or what Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and author Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor refers to as “dream-enablers,” in an interview published by Forbes.

“Sponsors deliver,” says Hewett. “They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion: They’ll see you to the threshold of power.”

These recommendations and the impact of executive sponsors — when championed by executive leaders at the board-level, within human resource departments, and company stockholders — can have a dramatic impact on what Insigniam believes to be the most impactful, yet underutilized, asset in the arsenal of top performing organizations: women as a competitive advantage.

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