Harriet and Henry are equally well qualified. As relatively new graduates they have been employed in the same company for two years and are considered to possess broadly equivalent talent and similar potential. Unfortunately, despite the parity in their optimism at this stage in their career, there will come a time soon when Harriet’s level of aspiration will drop more than 60% whilst Henry’s remain the same. Henry will enjoy support and sponsorship from his line manager and others. Harriet will become disillusioned by the apparent lack of support from her manager; the paucity of female role models in senior positions; and significantly, a strong feeling that she doesn’t fit with what she perceives to be the ‘ideal worker’ – one who is available 24/7 and highly adept at networking and self-promotion.
This is the reality for our hypothetical gender-representative pair, according to a study by Bain & Company published in 2014. The reasons women are not making it to top management positions in the same proportion as men are complex, and in my work with global corporates we take a collective approach to create the conditions for women’s talents to be recognised, valued and leveraged. There is no doubt that some responsibility for creating these conditions lies with the organisation, and there is much that line managers, in particular, can do to make it happen.
So if that’s the case, what’s the value in this day and age for taking women out of their working day and putting them in a workshop group with other women to focus on their career?
Women’s aspirations and career paths are very different from men’s. More women gain university degrees than men and women generally enter the workplace with a large dose of optimism & energy and their sights set high. For women in the first 2-3 years of their careers, anything seems possible and they may not envisage the challenges that are down the line. Educating them on research findings about women and careers helps them understand the possible dynamics and the need to work proactively on their career as well as in it. For example, those who do not grasp the importance placed on networking and self-promotion may struggle in those crucial early years to find ways to self-promote that fit with them and who they are. This realisation, raised self-awareness of what works for them, and an actions-based plan can make a big difference at this time.
For those who have been in the workplace longer, the research dynamics may be more identifiable to them. Given the lack of female senior leaders and role models, these women may already have decided, consciously or otherwise, that advancement in the current environment is not for them. The key here is to help women become crystal clear about who they are on the inside and how that is perceived on the outside. For example, they may not buy into the ‘24/7’ culture, but have distinct skills such as the ability to generate greater productivity in teams or juggle multiple and conflicting priorities more effectively. Taking time out to consider what they want for themselves, and how they will handle career pinch points, helps women to develop greater confidence in the difference they bring.
There is no one way to navigate a successful career, and for companies intent on improving the progression of women through the pipeline, giving women the support and space to create and steer their own path can be a sound investment of time & money as part of a broader solution.
Helen Krag, Senior Training Consultant, PDT