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For every 100 men promoted into management, only 85 women are – here’s how we change it

Written by Natasha Harvey on Wednesday, 23 December 2020. Posted in Wellbeing, Leadership, People

You may be wondering if a 15-point difference is even a problem – it is when you look long-term.

For every 100 men promoted into management, only 85 women are – here’s how we change it

You may be wondering if a 15-point difference is even a problem – it is when you look long-term. 

From 62% of women at manager level, female representation drops to a staggering 22% in the C-suite. 

When women are outnumbered at manager level, there are fewer women to hire or promote as senior managers and at every senior leadership-level thereafter. 

That first step is a critical stumbling block that holds women back from reaching leadership roles. 

There are many reasons for this. 

Firstly. Many companies focus diversity efforts and policies on executive levels. That same focus needs to address issues at manager level. 

As part of a talent management strategy, clear performance criteria to describe knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviours of value to the business need to be established, and existing and future talent evaluated against them. Candidates for the same role must be assessed against the same criteria for new hires and promotions.

Short lists requiring representation of both female and male candidates as well as targets set for female representation of first-time managers should be the norm, along with clear lines of accountability. 

Secondly. Whether we like it or not, many women are still bearing the brunt of family commitments and responsibilities. During the pandemic, this has been especially challenging. Recent reports from Mckinsey (US) and the Fawcett Society (UK) have highlighted the significant number of women having to downscale responsibilities or move out of the workforce due to the impact of the “caring roles” they take on at home.

Women need to be up front in addressing concerns with employers, and companies need to focus on developing cultures that embrace diversity by allowing for flexible and sustainable work environments. 

Thirdly, and less talked about, women do work differently. 

Research shows that at the beginning of their careers, most men make some sort of career plan, most women don’t. Many women are not proactively looking for information or people that might be useful for their futures, nor are they positioning themselves for their next moves.  

American feminist and political organiser Marie Wilson once said, “when a man imagining his future career looks in the mirror, he sees a senator staring back. A woman could never be so presumptuous.” Sometimes talent and potential are not realised as women don’t have the confidence to envision what they are capable of achieving. 

By underestimating their abilities, performance and potential, women set up mental barriers that hold them back even when an organisation may be doing everything it can to support them moving up. Women think they’re not ready and so they wait.

And this is where companies can make the biggest difference.   

Given the typical blockers to success that many women face, companies need to re-evaluate how they foster junior female talent. 

Organisations have a real opportunity to support women early in their careers to overcome these hurdles and learn core skills – from knowing themselves and their preferences better, understanding their values, strengths and ambitions, to taking responsibility for their own development and growth, and building confidence, reputation and visibility.

Applying similar strategies to those used with female executives, junior female talent also needs to have access to training and coaching, internal advocacy and high-visibility projects with support and commitment from line managers. 

Stepping up to take on new challenges, feeling comfortable in setting boundaries, managing professional and personal commitments, showing what they’re good at, learning from mistakes, letting go of perfect…these are critical soft skills that will help women navigate through most professional environments whether they’re talented and driven, or talented and a bit less certain.  

When integrated early enough, these skills will enable women to own their progress and develop sustainable behaviours that will serve them throughout their careers. What they learn as they prepare to be managers will be reinforced as they grow to senior leadership positions, and will enable them in turn, to create empathetic, flexible and collaborative environments for both women and men.

The return on investment is measurable. Indeed, seeing the gain in motivation and engagement (directly linked to productivity) as well as the benefits in retention of diverse talent, more and more, progressive companies are taking the step to make coaching accessible to all levels of employees. 

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2020 report includes emotional intelligence, active learning, resilience and interpersonal communications in the top ten skills we’ll need to thrive in the future. All of these come from a strong basis of self-awareness and self-management.  

If we want to see the numbers of women in leadership roles grow, we have to take action where it’s most effective – at the start of their careers. That means equitable workplaces and support to develop skills that will help them thrive.

About the Author

Natasha Harvey

Natasha Harvey

Natasha Harvey is a communications specialist and certified transformational coach. She runs coaching and mentoring programmes for young women to help build self-awareness, self-confidence, strong communications skills and resilience.

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