The Sound of Breaking Glass

 

With the Davies Report published last year gender diversity has never had a higher profile. The weight of public opinion and threatened legislation are starting to fracture the glass ceiling that has kept women out of the boardroom.

Added on 04 May 2012 by Fiona Dent

The Sound of Breaking Glass

With the Davies Report published last year gender diversity has never had a higher profile. The weight of public opinion and threatened legislation are starting to fracture the glass ceiling that has kept women out of the boardroom. But the number of women reaching the top is still very small – significantly less than 20% are getting into board positions globally.

Fiona Dent Director of Executive Education at Ashridge Business School looks at what organisations and women themselves can do to improve gender diversity in boardrooms – and provides some practical top tips.

Understanding Women’s Careers

Ashridge research Understanding Women’s Careers looked at what is blocking women’s path to the top and which factors help to build careers. It showed that despite policies and practices in place to support women organisational attitudes are still hampering career progress. However there is plenty that organisations can do on a practical and cultural level so that women get their seat at the top table.

More recently we (myself and Viki Holton Research Fellow at Ashridge) surveyed over 1400 female senior managers and directors and the results form the basis our new book Women in Business: Navigating Career Success.

Nearly half of female senior managers (48%) believe it is harder for a woman to succeed in an organisation compared with male colleagues while 49% think men and women are treated differently in terms of leadership and behaviour.

Having children remains one of the biggest hurdles to career development. A culture of long hours and extensive international travel can affect some women’s ability to fill certain roles.

Creating a culture that is women or even family friendly makes a real difference but the approach to this in many organisations is informal or ad hoc – one example is where part-time or flexi working options are left to individual managers.

A strategic approach would be much better. Also a focus on early career development opportunities would help many women. Such opportunities work as ‘career multipliers’ and help individuals stand out at the early stages of their careers. More of a focus on improving career development structures systems and support for women would help boost the number of female senior managers and directors.

Appointing a board- level champion for diversity makes progress more likely as it demonstrates to the business how important these issues are. It also means that sufficient staff and resources are allocated. The leadership programmes for women at Johnson & Johnson and at Novo Nordisk are good examples of a formal process to help women senior managers learn those key skills needed to propel their career to director level.

A number of assumptions continue to be made about women for example managers often assume that women with children don’t want international assignments or that women who choose to work part time are not interested in career progression. Organisations need to ask women what they want from their career rather than guessing.

Providing networks for women or encouraging women to join relevant networks can also fuel career progression. To make a real difference to the number of women chairs and chief executives and improve gender diversity HR departments need to think about ways their organisation can become a diversity champion. HR directors need to identify issues that can make a difference before there is a level playing field.

Advice for women – tips to get to the top

Be explicit

Identify your career goals ambitions and aspirations. Remember you can adapt develop and change these over time. Also welcome opportunities when they arise and ensure you put yourself forward for key projects and assignments.

Find a good boss

Recognise the important role your boss can play in your career success. Finding a good supportive boss is invaluable for developmental purposes.

Identify who can help 

Coaches mentors and sponsors. Take every developmental opportunity offered to you and offer to develop others. Relationships and networks are important too. Make your networks work for you by being actively involved in both internal and external groups.

Develop self-awareness 

Identify your major strengths style interests values beliefs and any areas you need to develop. Be open-minded to and welcome feedback from others to help you raise your self-awareness confidence and self-belief.

Develop a career plan 

Create your personal brand and a personal pitch to share with others when appropriate.

Juggle the work-life balance 

This is tough and needs careful planning. Recognise that there will be times when it feels imbalanced and others when you feel more in control.

Find the strategies that work for you. Women In Business: Navigating Career Success published by Palgrave Macmillan is written by Viki Holton and Fiona Dent.