Women continue to face barriers in recruitment and progression

21 March 2017 Consultancy.uk

Women remain chronically underrepresented throughout the corporate world, with the top of the business world remaining a male dominated arena. In a new report, professionals and employers express their views on a number of issues that are perceived as limiting the opportunities of women to achieve their goals in business, as well as the kinds of practices businesses are implementing to reduce the stubbornly wide gulf. 

PwC has released a new study into the representation of women across the corporate business world. The report is based on a survey of 328 respondents representing organisations headquartered in 18 difference countries and a survey among 4,792 employees from 70 countries – 82% of the respondents were female and are currently employed or about to start their first job. 

Women are underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline

According to the data, women seeking employment within the corporate world are considerably less likely to find themselves in the higher echelons of the business world. At entry level there is a discrepancy of 4% on parity in favour of men, this reaches 13% by managerial level, 17% by senior manager/director level, 21% at vice president level and 26% at senior vice president level. When it comes to boardroom positions, the discrepancy at the C-suite stands at 31%.

The discrepancy, even at the start of the corporate ladder, creates pipeline issues which lead into subsequent employment challenges within organisations. The current issues within businesses more widely, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining skills whose automation remains too difficult, means that retaining and developing talented people – has become more important than ever. The current trend within the corporate realm, which considerably favours men, means that talented women are finding their skill sets and potential underutilised or left to wither.

Gender discrimination in hiring process

While there is a 4% discrepancy at the start of the pipeline, which becomes increasingly skewed towards men, the reasons for the discrepancy are not themselves clear. One area of concern is that there is discrimination and implicit biases at play in the recruitment process, which may correlate with lower levels of entry in both the hiring process, but also during promotion cycles.

The research itself identified that women (21% versus 5%) are more likely to have personally felt gender discrimination during the hiring process. Differences exist at different stages in respondents’ careers. 19% of career starters, for instance, noted discrimination, while for job hunters, it stood at 22% – job movers, however, noted the highest level of perceived discrimination at 25% of female respondents. At the senior hire level 27% of female respondents say that they do not believe that they have the same chances as men.

The research also noted differences between generations and geographic regions. 28% of female millennials, for instance, expressed the belief that employers are biased in favour of male candidates – which has increased from 16% in 2011 – and is slightly under the 30% of all women surveyed. The problem is more severely perceived in a number of countries, including in Switzerland (46%), Brazil, Ireland, the US (40%) and the UK (38%).

Most significant barriers to increased levels of female experienced hires

Other barriers

While discrimination is likely to play a role in the wider phenomenon of female underrepresentation in business, other barriers too may be in place. The study asked employers and male and female respondents to note other points within the wider hiring process that may affect the level of experienced hires at businesses.

As noted above, the structural decline in pipelines between levels within the business, means that for employers there are fewer and fewer women to select for promotion. In total, 38% employer respondents say that there is a lack of sufficient candidates in the pool. Another barrier noted by respondents, 24% of employers, by 22% of males and 14% of females, is that the industry sector is not viewed as attractive to women. One area in which there was relative agreement between the three groups, employers at 21%, males at 30% and females at 29%, is that women do not pursue career opportunities as aggressively as men do.

One area in which a large group of women (45%) point out key concerns, and something with which a third of men agree, is the impact of gender stereotypes/assumptions in the recruitment process. Concerns over the cost and impact of maternity leave, follow as a key concern for 42% of women – particularly women in the US face challenges – while 16% of business respondents themselves see it as a barrier.

Has your organisation introduced any of the following diversity practices?

While the problem persists, companies, in recent years, have begun to explore ways to reduce the discrepancy, with the business case for increased female representation, among others, driving businesses forward.

The top most cited diversity practice implemented at businesses is to ‘train our recruitment professionals so they are equipped to focus on driving more inclusive recruitment efforts’, implemented at 49% of organisations, followed by 25% of respondents that are exploring the practice. 52% of respondents say that they ensure diversity of interview panel/interviewers throughout the interviewing process, with a further 21% saying that they are exploring the approach.

Other areas in which large numbers of businesses, 40% to 50%, are active include ‘reviewing role descriptions to ensure use of inclusive language’, ‘training all of our interviewers in unconscious bias’ and ‘we leverage our in-house diversity employee resource/affinity groups to support with more diverse recruitment’. The practices the fewer businesses have implemented include ‘offering head hunters/recruitment agencies enhanced commission for diverse hires', at 26% of respondents, the 'introduction of ‘"blind’ applications’, cited by 27% of respondents, and ‘leveraging diversity associations to access diverse talent segments’, cited by 36% of respondents.

Which of the following factors do you believe make an organisation an attractive employer?

What makes an attractive employer

The research also asked employees and potential employees what factors they believe makes an employer attractive. The number one cited response for career starters is ‘opportunities for career progression’, the factor comes second for job hunter, third for job mover and forth for career returner.

‘Competitive wages and other financial benefits’ comes third for career starts and job hunters, and second for job movers and career returners. Flexible work arrangements and a culture of work-life balance comes second for career starters, but first for job hunter, job mover and career returners.

Says Bob Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC comments, “When you look at what drives job satisfaction, people clearly seek opportunities for career progression. Putting in place formal career progression plans is one way of making sure employees remain motivated and committed to the organisation. Career progression plans aren’t simply a process – they’re there to help each employee reach its full potential. Looking forward, this will be increasingly important as CEOs work to attract and retain the best talent in a highly competitive world. Having this mindset will help CEOs tap into the complete talent market as opposed to half of it.”

Related: 'Women aspiring executive roles face structural barriers' and '5 tactics to cultivate a pipeline of qualified female executives'.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

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.