Recent research by coaching consultancy Talking Talent into the challenges faced by professional women and working mothers painted a positive picture for some industries.
However, Talking Talent’s marketing director Chris Martin explains how many employers were found to be lacking in their support and attitudes towards women, and some of those in sectors that scored highly in terms of employer support and career progression indicated they had experienced workplace discrimination and barriers to their career due to their gender.
Solving this paradox should be top of all organisations’ lists of priorities. Failure to stamp out gender discrimination and introduce better support for women throughout their careers will mean that employers miss out on a huge section of their top talent, something businesses can ill-afford in today’s competitive economy. So what can industries do to make a difference to women at work?
Cultural change is needed before employers can see results
The overwhelming majority of women say that their employer is supportive of women (80%), despite more than one-third (36%) having experienced workplace prejudice and 44% saying their gender has hindered their career in the past or will in the future. This suggests many professional women do not feel comfortable fully voicing their concerns over negative barriers to their development.
Employers must therefore ensure their organisation promotes a culture that allows women to bring barriers to their careers to attention without fear of damaging their opportunities or being seen as disloyal.
Some will be held back by a sense of loyalty to their organisation and may fear that criticising those in charge, who are often male members of senior management, could limit their progression rather than further it. Employees who observe behaviour which hinders women’s careers should feel free to feed this information back to the right people so change can be implemented ground level up as well as being promoted by senior management.
Practical changes to support women
Creating the right environment is not restricted to opportunities for women to raise the issue of barriers to their careers. They, and their managers, also need the confidence and skills to deal with these concerns and implement an effective solution.
One-fifth (21%) of the women surveyed rated coaching as a key factor in their retention and progression. The skills that derive from coaching tally with those that women cite as important to their career progression, typically those relating to confidence and how they assert themselves, rather than the skills they need to do the job.
Coaching for working women and their managers supports policies and practices such as flexible working. It helps identify the personal skills they need to progress, and how they can take advantage of existing policies. It also gives them the confidence to approach their manager and enable a change that works for both employer and employee, as well as allowing them to voice their opinions on what works in retaining and progressing female talent.
For example, the idea of quotas, particularly in terms of ensuring an even split of male and female senior staff, regularly crops up within the media. However, few working women are in favour of this, with only 7% seeing this as a positive solution. Equipping women with the confidence to pursue the career that they want, and giving them the tools to make sure they can work in a way that makes this possible, will ensure change throughout the talent pipeline.
Management coaching is an equal priority, as senior staff play a crucial role in improving the attitudes and culture of an organisation. This can prove decisive in whether policies designed to support working women succeed or fail. If managers can see the value of supporting and progressing female talent, then this encourages positive attitudes to filter throughout the organisation.
Changing the culture of the UK’s workplaces is a long-term goal. However, creating an open atmosphere, encouraging positive policies at all levels of the organisation and really listening to what working women need to progress can make a significant difference. Those industries that invest in their female talent will reap the rewards: those who don’t will fall behind.