An illusion of progress: women in senior roles

Women on boards
PeopleImages/iStock
Nicola Deas
Practice Leader
Right Management
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It was recently announced that the number of UK women earning over £1 million annually has doubled over the past 5 years. In the same breath, the report also claimed that women are still outnumbered by men 10 to one in senior positions.

An illusion of progress

There is an illusion of progress when it comes to women’s representation in senior positions.

Yes, in Europe, the percentage of women on large company boards has almost doubled over the past five years to 25% and women outnumber male university graduates in 95 of 144 countries, but really behind the numbers women face a very real and triple threat.

Women are underrepresented in industries poised for growth

From engineering, to technology, architecture and mathematics, women are already incredibly underrepresented and these are the areas where we predict more job opportunities are set to arise.

There is already an increasing skills gap and this is only going to get wider if we ignore this untapped pool of talent.

Women are overrepresented in roles threated by automation

To add to this, as technology continues to disrupt the biggest impact will be felt by women.

Office and administrative positions are more threatened by automation, digitisation and robotics than any other. This should serve as a stark wake up call for businesses as these jobs generally have a high number of female employees.

There are low levels of women in senior roles

Worryingly, our recent Women We Hear You report found the number of senior positions held by women has risen just 3% in the past five years, to stand at 24%.

To achieve gender disparity it is critical businesses make this a top business concern and start putting in the necessary steps today, to eliminate the threats of tomorrow.

Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored

One of the first steps in ensuring women are heard in a male dominated climate is by providing a culture of conscious inclusion and support.

This advocate can be found in the form of a sponsor. Whilst a mentor acts as a sounding board, what women really need is a sponsor – someone that will champion them and get them to where they need to be.

Sponsors have an invested interest in developing talent and helping women get promoted, however worryingly 84% of women have said they have not been able to find a sponsor in their organisation. This is a huge obstacle to progression. 

The importance of a career conversation

Employers risk losing top talent if they don’t start talking to their employees. Career conversations are not only good for individuals, but good for business.

Male leaders say the best way to advance is to self-promote, however research has shown that women will not raise their hand until they are confident they can do the job. In turn, this means they may not actively seek stretch assignments, causing development to stall.

Leaders need to walk the talk

It is therefore crucial that career conversations are implemented to provide the opportunity for women to reaffirm strengths and align goals and motivations with what the organisation needs.

In turn, not only will employees feel more engaged, but they are more likely to freely share ideas that will benefit the business and stay with their current employer for longer.

Diversity needed to remain competitive

Unfortunately gender parity is nothing new. However today, leaders can deliver on their commitments and take these small, but mighty steps to get more women into leadership and help narrow the gender gap in emerging industries.

After all, it has been proven that businesses with more diverse workforces outperform others and are better positioned to adapt. So if that doesn’t make businesses sit up and take notice, preparing for our ever-increasingly competitive world of tomorrow should.

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