Women on top?
What creates success for women in business and what inhibits it?
This career guide gives an overview of the issues causing gender imbalance, shares some examples of what companies are doing to support women’s success, 13 tips to encourage women in their careers and some useful links.
Whether you are a woman reading this career guide, the parent of a daughter, boss to a talented female employee or partner of an executive female, success for women is an important topic. Women will soon have the larger share of the world’s wealth – please support success for women by sharing this career guide e.g. by tweeting it.
What causes gender imbalance in business?
“The sight of a woman in the British Boardroom is rare enough; that of one in the managing director’s chair is almost as exotic as a pair of nesting ospreys.”Carol Kennedy.
Gender balance at senior levels of an organisation is a multi-faceted problem with many interrelating factors.
- Unconscious bias – most senior decision makers are male and ‘like attracts like’;
- ‘Macho’ cultures off-putting for women;
- Lack of senior female role models;
- Clash between women’s readiness for having children and for a senior position with increased responsibility;
- Working mothers still do the lion’s share of childcare and home responsibilities;
- Women are ambitious but don’t want to sacrifice family life and work life balance;
- Gender differences; women are more perfectionist and worriers than men and don’t put themselves forward for promotion/ask for a pay rise when men do;
- Business attitude to flexible working/presenteism;
- Perceptions that part time working = not committed when often the opposite is true;
- D&I being thought of a ‘nice to have’ not ‘must have’ with business budgets under pressure; and
- The cost of childcare.
What factors would you add?
What does research and data show?
Success for women in business is improving; women’s median income has increased by 63% in the last 30 years (Source www.Forbes.co.uk) and a third of working wives now earn more than their husbands. However, across all sectors, women earn only 82% of what men earn and in America, only 4% of major corporations have female CEOs.
Certain industries have less women than men, for example STEM and construction; 9.8% of construction’s workforce are women, the majority in support roles. (Source = www.building.co.uk)
Women make up over 50% of places at University but represent only approximately 20% of senior positions, depending on the sector. Female talent drain is a huge and costly problem for business and a waste of potential to improve the economy and help the return to growth.
Research shows that many women have jobs below the competency level for which they are capable, for example talented female executives who have had children but who cannot find suitable high calibre jobs with flexibility.
The perception of employers towards paying for maternity leave in our budget squeezed times is a factor which is under researched and, as yet, unproven.
The good news is that times are changing with both the government and business setting targets likely to improve success for women. The number of women in senior positions is growing and the spotlight is on this topic with more and more organisations providing programmes that support female career success.
In Norway, their approach has been to enforce increasing the number of women on the Board but this initiative has met with resistance by some women who, unsurprisingly, want to be promoted on merit not quotas.
More and more women are choosing to leave corporate life and set up their own business to create control over their hours and make work work better for them. Technology e.g. tablets and The Cloud is enabling flexibility of when, where and how people work, but many employers’ attitudes and policies remain outdated. Times are changing and success for women is likely to be positively influenced by the changing world of work.
What are businesses doing to support women?
Research shows that culture change and organisational development are the most important factors for success for women, but these take time. Targets, sponsorship, women’s networks, mentoring, unconscious bias training and publishing D&I data, plus making senior management accountable can all play a part.
NAFE (National Association for Female Executives) publishes its annual list of the top 50 companies for executive women. IBM, Abbot, Prudential Financial, General Mills and Proctor & Gamble are some of the names on the list.
The Law Society has a Diversity & Inclusion Charter and recommends that law firms set targets. It has created a Women’s Division, providing inspiring interviews with successful women in the law, talks, mentoring and a newsletter etc.
The Construction industry has set up a working group ‘WIPSE’ to explore how to increase the number of women in Construction and engineering.
Morgan Sindall, for example, has an Inclusion strategy and action plan which includes benchmarking vs. peers, information on the company intranet and a Board Senior Inclusion Champion
Balfour Beatty have a 3 year diversity programme with publicly reported targets and a women’s Affinity Network ‘Connecting Women’ supporting success for women.
13 tips to support success for women at work
- Choose a job/career that honours your values – what is important to you
- Design a career strategy and plan that encompasses your longer term plans e.g. having children or becoming self-employed
- Get a coach who supports you to overcome fears and market yourself
- Join a women’s network for supportive role models and inspiring advice
- Market yourself in indirect ways that feel comfortable to you
- Push out your comfort zone to market yourself e.g. public speaking
- Understand gender differences and how they can be leveraged for personal and business success
- Be your authentic self
- Speak up about bias and stereotypes to enable change
- Support other women on the way up when you get to the top
- If a career is very important to you, make sure that you choose a supportive partner e.g. a house husband
- Choose an employer that makes D&I a priority rather than playing lip service to it
- Learn to play golf and talk sport