Mercer: Diversity efforts not improving women growth

02 December 2014

According to a recent research by HR consultancy Mercer into the global workforce, well-intended diversity efforts are not improving women’s progress. The research shows that despite women making up 41% of the global workforce, their representation at the high levels of organisations remains low, with only one in every 5 executives being female. Although this level is expected to grow to 36% by 2024, more can be done and a level of 44% could be reached with new diversity approaches, such as involved senior leaders and equity pay teams.

HR consulting firm Mercer recently released its ‘When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive’ report, which was based on Mercer’s research into the global workforce. The firm analysed workforce data for more than 1.7 million employees in 28 countries, including more than 680,000 women. The report uncovers the fundamental drivers of current and future female representation and identifies what organizations can do to fully engage women in the workplace and ensure that diversity thrives while achieving business success.

The overall conclusion of the report: “Women, who continue to be underrepresented at most levels in the workforce, are not progressing in their careers despite the past two decades of organisational efforts to achieve gender diversity and equality.”

Women representation in global workforce

Currently, women are make up 41% of the workforce globally, with the highest representation in the US and Canada, where they make up 48% of the workforce, and the lowest in Latin America with 37%. Despite the fact that women make up two-fifths of the global workforce, their representation in higher level roles is far lower, with only 19% of executives being female and just over a quarter (26%) of the senior management roles fulfilled by women. Women’s largest representation among all career levels is in support staff roles, with 40%. In the US and Canada, female employees lag behind their male counterparts at every career level except the professional and executive levels. In Europe/Oceania, women lag behind at every level except the manager level. In Latin America, women lag behind on every level above entry/professional level.

“Clearly, companies can do better in addressing and progressing gender equality in the workplace and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse workforce. Given the size of the untapped female workforce, greater participation of women has major implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations as well as business outcomes and performance,” comments Pat Milligan, President of Mercer’s North America Region.

Projected growth in women at executive level

If the current diversity approaches remain unchanged, in 10 years just over one-third of executive positions will be held by women. This comparison of the projected growth of women at the executive level for different regions shows that although women have the biggest representation in the US and Canada in 2014, their expected representation on the executive level in ten years will experience the smallest growth, of only 2%. The biggest expected increase in women at the executive level is in Europe/Oceania, with an increase of 29%, an increase that is almost matched by Latin America (with 27%).

Mercer states that if new diversity approaches were to be adopted, these numbers could increase significantly more in the coming ten years, with a global increase of female executives from 36% to 44%. At the regional level, the growths will also be much higher, with 42% of executives in the US and Canada expected to be female (up from 26%) and 53% in Latin America (up from 39%). The smallest increase in growth is expected in Europe/Oceania, where already almost half of executives in 2024 are expected to be female, from 47% to 55%.

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To achieve these increases, more active involvement of senior leaders in gender diversity is needed to accelerate the representation of women in executive roles as currently only 56% of organisations indicate to have actively involved senior executives in diversity and inclusion programs. The researchers also state that a dedicated team responsible for pay equity will lead to a quicker improvement of women in senior roles than common diversity policies such as flexible work schedules and leave programs.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.