Advance Performance | How Beth Ford Has Become A Trailblazer For Diversity In Leadership This Month
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How Beth Ford Has Become A Trailblazer For Diversity In Leadership This Month

How Beth Ford Has Become A Trailblazer For Diversity In Leadership This Month

On 1st August 2018, Beth Ford became the first openly gay woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over as CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc. In 2018, this appointment should not be ground breaking. It should not be a major business headline, and yet Beth Ford is paving the way to increase diversity in leadership at the very top.

Ford’s promotion makes her just one of 25 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, joining leaders such as Mary Barra of General Motors and Ginni Rometty of IBM. Since her announcement, Indra Nooyi of Pepsi Co has announced she will be leaving her role, so that will decrease the number back to 24. In 2017, there was an all-time high of 32 female CEO’s at Fortune 500 companies.

A 2015 McKinsey Report showed that companies with more gender diversity among leadership had greater financial gains. It also revealed that there was a correlation between leadership diversity experiencing higher performance and a more competitive advantage.

In a previous podcast, Heather Wright discussed the importance of forming a long term strategy to increase the number of women in leadership roles. She explained it is vital to ensure the visibility of women in management and leadership roles, and to improve mentoring networks to encourage the next generation of leaders.

Beth Ford is essentially a trailblazer among the Fortune 500’s CEOs as she is also just the second openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, after Apple’s Tim Cook, and the first openly gay woman. It is a sobering thought that since Tim Cook came out as gay in October 2014, that Beth Ford is the first new LGBTQ person to take on a CEO role within a Fortune 500 company. A third, James Fitterling, is set to take over Dow Chemical in 2019.

This lack of diversity at high leadership level determines the whole business culture as even in 2018, almost half of American LGBT employees are in the closet, according to a recent Human Rights Campaign survey.

As Beth Ford said in an interview in Fortune: “I think it must be really hard if you feel like you’re in a culture where you can’t be who you are. Work is hard enough, and then when you have to feel as though you can’t be who are, that’s got to be incredibly difficult.”

Beth Ford has taken risks throughout her career to be authentic about her life as the statistics of the lack of LGBTQ and gender diversity in management roles show that she could have missed out on promotions in other companies. A 2018 Namely Diversity Report revealed that males are more likely to receive recognition at work and female employees tend to be under-recognized within the organization. The report also found that males receive more raises and promotions than female employees.

How can we change the current climate of the low numbers of female leaders – and LGBTQ leaders within companies?

  • By raising awareness and openly discussing the issues throughout a company.
  • By setting diversity strategies and goals – and carrying out action plans with positive behaviour.
  • Mentoring between higher level managers and rising employees.
  • Recognising awareness campaigns such as Pride, and ensuring they can be a part of a company culture so that every employee recognises their work space as also their safe space.
  • Incorporating flexible working practices so that women can achieve ALL their goals, and do not need to choose either/or. Beth Ford may be the first openly gay female CEO who is married with teenage daughters – but she should not be the only one in her position.

I made a decision long ago to live an authentic life, and if my being named CEO helps others do the same, that’s a wonderful moment.” – Beth Ford on CNN, July 2018