Despite the perception of change, women are heavily underrepresented in managerial roles. HRM looks at why this is still occurring and how we can challenge it.
Career acceleration and top roles are still out of the grasp of many women. A recent Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey in the US says that although women make up almost half the entry level workforce, they account for just one third of management positions and a paltry one fifth of C-suite positions.
But more concerning is what the study reveals about the general lack of knowledge and alarm about this trend. Even though only one in 10 women are in senior leadership roles, half of male respondents don’t see this as a problem. Compare that to the one third of women who concur.
In a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Sandberg says these results are “a sign that we’re too comfortable with the status quo”.
“Women on average are still underrepresented at every step of the corporate ladder. The gap begins with entry-level jobs and widens the higher you climb,” says Sandberg. This is happening even with diversity programs in place, she points out.
What’s causing the barriers for women?
Caitlin Figueiredo, an advocate for global equality who is speaking at the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity conference in Canberra on 26th October, believes it’s not women’s complacency that is preventing them from moving up the corporate ladder but a desire to avoid confrontation.
A lack of confidence and support are barriers to progress, she says.. “A lot of workforces are dominated by men in managerial positions, and when a woman realises she’s not progressing in her career, it can be very daunting to have that conversation with a male superior,” says Figueiredo.
While men are more likely to ask for what they want, women who do the same aren’t seen in the same light and are often stereotyped as ungrateful or a troublemakers who can’t hack it, she says. “There is no real cultural support in organisations to make women feel they can have these kind of conversations about the career.”
Lack of flexible working arrangements is another impeding women’s progress, says Figueiredo. When women want to start a family, they are often forced out of the workforce instead.
Where do we begin?
Sandberg says rather than congratulating ourselves for our diversity achievements, we need to be mindful of how far there is still to go. Figueiredo believes that that awareness is a crucial first step. “We need to be aware of what’s happening in our workforce – who is being promoted, and who’s not. Is there diversity in the team, and if not, how can we challenge this construction?”
To help women entering the workforce, Figueiredo thinks blind interviews are the best way to remove prejudice, and not just against women but minorities in general. In regards to promotions, she believes an interview panel should have a diverse representation in terms of gender, culture and across levels.
Outside of management, women need to support each other more. “The best way to ensure a workplace culture is inclusive is when women support other women to create safe places.” This could include petitioning supervisors for promotions for colleagues, or being there to discuss family issues or harassment at work.
Figueiredo thinks flexible work arrangements shouldn’t just be for women who are carers, but that it needs to become more acceptable that men take up paternity leave. As previously reported by HRM, only one in 50 Australian men currently take paternity leave. “Organisations need to reduce the gap between mothers being the predominant carers,” says Figueiredo.
According to Sandberg, failure to create a level playing field is to the detriment to every organisation. “In a competitive global economy, no business can afford to leave talent on the sidelines.”
Image: Caitlin Figueiredo
Discover how you can change mindsets and organisational culture at AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conferences in Canberra on 26 October and Melbourne on 2 November. Registration closes 26 October (Melbourne).