Where do all the women go?
I was complacent. I shied from the idea of making women a special case thinking, ‘We are every bit as good as men, if not better in some instances. Why put us in a female ghetto?’ Then I looked around. As an executive coach, I have had women clients but they are ridiculously in the minority. I realised I had just assumed it was all getting better. Progress has in fact been extremely slow. Many of the women who have made it have done so by eschewing the opportunity to have relationships and children. A senior women in banking recently told me she could never have reached her position if she had been a mother. Role models like this can be hard for others to follow and they in turn may need to perpetuate the belief that it can’t be done rather than face a sense of lost opportunity. A man would not have faced such a stark choice in order to pursue his career. So while we are of course equal we are not the same. There is a case for affirmative action not just for women’s sake but for the success of business.
Despite graduate intakes around the 50% mark, in the UK only 35% of managers are women and only 5% serve as directors on boards. Where are they all going and what is it costing the organisations?
A recent McKinsey study showed better than average financial performance by European companies with the highest proportion of women in influential leadership role, as indicated by strong business measures such as return on equity, operating results and share price growth. Previous US research in Fortune 500 companies showed that those with the highest proportion of women and senior women are more profitable and efficient, on average, than those with the lowest (Catalyst 2006).
Organisations are beginning to realise that their staff also need to represent their customer demographics, women do shop after all, yet still do not have a range of gender diversity at senior levels.
To sum up the arguments: more women in the boardroom means more successful companies, especially in Services. To achieve more women in the boardroom, you need a critical mass of women managers in middle and senior ranks and this is not currently happening.
It can be reasonably argued that women do not need specific attention and do not want to be singled out in case this makes them appear deficient. This is true when looking at general development and specific business issues. However, women need a very specific type of development to enable them to manage their career and maximise their chances of staying in a significant corporate role. Companies have a lot to gain by helping women to stay put and dealing with their specific challenges
The stages of a woman’s career are critical and different from a man’s. Research shows that things start to go wrong during the mid career so development should start earlier:
- Young manager - 2 years or so after joining at graduate level women benefit from coaching to instil confidence, grasp opportunity, establish ambitions and negotiate the labyrinth which is the world of work today for women
- Mid career including Maternity, - women need to focus at this time on managing experience and timing, ‘off and on-ramping’, first 100 days back, how the world of work may look altered post children and how they can make the most of their careers without leaving the organisation
- Leadership – stepping up to the big challenges, taking a position, handling responsibility, combining roles such as caring/motherhood and career
So what is so special about women and what will it take for women and men to be equally represented in the more senior jobs? Here are some of the areas that have emerged:
- Understanding the company culture – how do you discover the unwritten rules, what impact do they have on you
- Planning and visioning your career e.g. it is said that there is no longer a glass ceiling … just a labyrinth to be negotiated. How do women consider options and make choices?
- Balancing family and work – what are the options, flexi time, part time, remote working? What effect will they have on a woman’s career choice? How can they handle others’ perception and maintain a strong profile?
- Knowing yourself and understanding differences - how women recognise their own working style and those of others
- Developing a strong, authentic point of view – how to avoid becoming a male management clone while pursuing success
- Playing to your strengths – how to ensure engagement at work through recognising and using key strengths Developing powerful networks and using role-models
So, let’s stop just working very hard and hoping it will all work out – if not for us then for our daughters. Let’s narrow that gap by speeding up the process. So, what does a woman want? What do you want?