Multiskilling will set the agenda for female managers

stand to benefit this decade by exploiting their broad skills set

Women’s work-life balance and quality of life is never far from the
headlines. A recent survey of 100 solicitors in 40 law firms showed that 40 per
cent of female assistants would reject the offer of a partnership and 86 per
cent of women solicitors are unhappy with their career paths and want flexible
working hours.

The EJ Legal Workplace Survey shows that lawyers believe their firms expect
them to be available around the clock for clients, and that any requests for
flexible working would be sneered at.

Working all hours is a common problem for managers, especially for women
with children who are forced to make choices between career and family.

In the professional services sector, where staff time is charged out to
clients, the problems have grown out of all proportion.

The issue has been addressed by one large consultancy, which thinks managing
the expectations of clients should be addressed up front, at the bidding stage
of gaining business.

With attraction and retention of talented staff high on the agenda,
organisations need to look critically at the packages they are offering.

The more enlightened firms are recognising the importance of quality of life
– and that it is starting to apply to men as well as women. Software firm
Cisco, for instance, allows its staff to work any time, anywhere.

Such issues represent a big challenge for major corporations that operate
globally. Leadership requires a different skills set from those of 10 years
ago. Managing in today’s fast-changing, highly competitive climate means
individuals need a much more flexible and fluid approach, making use of
networks and the involvement of others.

This work style plays more strongly into the hands of women, who could well
benefit over the next decade by moving more freely into the top jobs.

But there is still a way to go before women are strongly represented at
board level, as a survey by Catalyst and Opportunity Now last year showed.

This is especially true in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as
engineering and the City. Organisations in these sectors are a long way off
making it easier for women to move successfully into top jobs and operate on an
equal basis with their male colleagues, including equal pay.

So what can women do to help themselves? The first area is confidence. US
research shows that men will assess themselves far more favourably than their
equally talented female colleagues. For example, during self-assessment for
appraisal, men tend to report back more favourably than women. Indeed, men may
overemphasise their capability, while women stick to a more realistic picture.
Women need to learn to be more confident about their abilities and be more prepared
to take risks.

Women can also play to their strengths of understanding and dealing with
feelings, resulting in enhanced interpersonal skills.

Many companies now recognise women’s capability at multi-tasking and in
today’s changing world this is a key skill.

These issues will be debated at the Women as Leaders conference at Henley
Management College on the 13 and 14 June.

Jane Cranwell-Ward is programme director for Women as Leaders in the 21st

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