Bain: Companies should nurture ambition of women

06 November 2014

Experienced women that came into a company with the ambition to attain a job in the c-suite, lose this ambition after the first few years of their career. This loss in ambition is accompanied by a loss in confidence. According to Bain & Company, this is caused by a lack of support of supervisors and a lack of role models.

Bain & Company recently released a report in which it investigated gender parity and the differences in career paths between men and women in the US, and the reasons for these differences. The 2014 edition of the research focused particularly on the ambition to pursue a top management position (board, CEO level, and one or two levels below CEO) in a large company. For this research over 1,000 men and women in the US were interviewed from all career levels.

The research of the consulting firm shows that in the first two years of working at a firm more women than men aspire to become an executive. 43% of women want a job at the top management level, compared to 34% of men. The confidence of both sexes on their ability to reach such a job is equal at that stage. However, the research also shows that these numbers differ strongly with those of more experienced employees. Only 16% of experienced women aim for a job at the top, which is a loss of ambition of more than 60%. The ambition level of experienced male employees stays the same as that of newcomers. When looking at the ambition level of senior personnel, we see an increase of approximately 20% for both male and female senior employees, with women reaching a level of 35% and men of 56%. As a result of the loss of ambition among experienced women and an ever growing ambition among men, the gap in ambition levels between the sexes keeps growing.

B&C Aspirations to attain an executive position executive position

The consultants also researched the confidence levels of female and male employees to attain executive jobs. It is interesting to see that the confidence level for both men and women is the same in the first years, and while the confidence among experienced men drops slightly from 28% to 25%, the confidence among women is cut by half, leaving just 13% of women confident they will be able to land an executive job. The confidence level among senior personnel rises for both male and female employees. Men’s confidence level rises from 25% to 55%, which is almost the same level of men that have the ambition to attain such a job, showing men’s confidence at that level. Even though the level of confidence among women, which had dropped to a mere 13%, rises again to 29%, this is just slightly above their confidence level in the first two years of starting the job. Commenting on the numbers, Julie Coffman, Partner at Bain & Company and Chair of Bain’s Global Women’s Leadership Council, says: “The difference is striking, we need to unpack what is happening during those early to mid-level years of a career that is changing these aspiration and confidence levels so dramatically.”

According to Bain, this is not caused by the easy explanations such as taking off time or working part-time to start families, because the marital and parental status among women who do and who do not aspire executive jobs did not significantly differ. The consultants state that the reason behind the drop in confidence and aspiration levels is the feeling of a lack of support from supervisors and the feeling of not fitting into stereotypes of success within a company.

Julie Coffman - Bain & Company

Bain’s research shows that to counter the lack of ambition of female employees, supervisors at a mid-management level should encourage a healthier work-life balance among employees. In addition, they should get to know their female employees in order to drive their loyalty and engagement. Another action to be taken is the expansion of the concept and definition of role models; women have far less role models than men when it comes to executives functions. “It’s convenient to point to the boardroom and say it’s a quick fix to appoint some leaders and we’re done. The harder work is at the mid-level when every day you have a supervisor and a supervisee interacting. You have those moments of truth where you are either nurturing those aspirations and cultivating that confidence or you are not,” adds Coffman.


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.