What happens to women on the way up?
Did you know that companies with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions perform significantly better commercially? Yet despite the fiscal benefits, the gender balance at the top is still biased towards men: just 20% of senior management positions are held by women.
I recently attended a fascinating round table to discuss why this is. The results were interesting and, in some cases, unexpected. There are, of course the obvious reasons like the difficulties of combining family and work in a society that's slewed towards the 8 - 6pm working day. Plus there's the ludicrously high cost of childcare and negativity around part time working.
But more surprisingly were the findings around how women are actively self- limiting. In many cases they're the ones holding themselves back: not putting themselves forward for projects outside their comfort zone, turning down promotion and keeping quiet when they should be asking for a pay rise.
There's also the almost subversive role of gender stereotypes. Success in a leadership role is often perceived as requiring assertiveness and competitiveness, even aggressiveness - traditionally male traits. This goes against the view that women should be more nurturing, sensitive and caring, and an assertive woman is viewed with suspicion or, even worse, labelled 'bossy'.
So what can managers and women themselves, do about this problem? Our panel came up with some practical solutions for businesses …
- Educating managers to spot talent and understand how women hold themselves back.
- Encourage women to rise through the ranks.
- Use coaching and mentoring programmes*.
And for women themselves …
- The notion that a woman has to be an alpha male to compete is out dated; a strong woman can remain feminine and carve an assertive role out for herself, actively and consciously bringing her strongest qualities to the table.
- Identify how you're holding yourself back. Alter your thought processes, actions and focus.
- Plan your career more strategically.
- Understand how to take your ideas further, who to present them to and how they'll affect the bottom line. Put forward the business case, not just clever ideas.
- Network, get yourself seen, develop and promote your personal brand.
* Lynette Allen who organised the forum runs a tailored mentoring programme, Her Invitation, to develop female leaders of the future www.herinvitation.com.