+1-646-6882318
nicki@theglasshammer.com

Are Companies Helping Women Be Ambitious?

Woman Outside OfficeThis piece originally appeared on The Glass Hammer.

By Melissa J. Anderson

Today marks International Women’s Day – and this year’s theme is “Pathway to Decent Work for Women.” After all, being seen as an equally capable economic performer is key to being seen as an equally valuable person.

It’s only appropriate that on Friday, in honor of IWD, Accenture released the results of a global study on attitudes toward work, surveying 3,400 business executives from medium to large organizations across 29 countries. The survey reveals some telling statistics about how people across the globe feel about women, work, success, and ambition.

What may be most surprising about the report is how similar the responses were between men and women. Apparently, securing satisfying, fairly compensated work is important to everyone!

But there were some notable differences between genders – mainly around the areas of career planning and development. Women are seeking their own brand of professional success and taking their own path to get there. The study revealed that fewer women than men (14% compared to 22%) are hoping to attain C-suite roles. Indeed, the freedom to define your own success is wonderful and freeing, but this begs a very difficult question: are women choosing a different definition of success because obstacles, glass ceilings or sticky floors perhaps, are obstructing the path to the corner office?

Career Satisfaction and Development: More Women Seeking Education

One of the main findings of the report was that almost half of the respondents (42% of males and 43% of females) are not happy with their current work situation. Yet at the same time, they aren’t looking for a new job (most said they’re planning to stay put for the time being). LaMae Allen deJongh, Accenture’s Managing Director of U.S. Human Capital & Diversity explained, “Our research found an unusual workplace dynamic in that even though today’s professionals are dissatisfied with their jobs, they are focused on seeking the training, the resources, and the people that can help them achieve their goals with their current employers.”

DeJongh said that employers should take note of this dynamic, and provide more opportunities for learning and development. “We hope executives will view the insights emerging from this research as an opportunity to engage their employees and help them become more successful and satisfied.”

Women in particular are seeking more ways to educate themselves – perhaps seeing education as a way to advance their own career potential. According to the study, a noticeably larger percentage of female executives (18%) compared with males (11%) are looking to go back to school. DeJongh was careful to note that while more women than men are looking to the classroom everyone is looking to improve themselves.

She said, “Although more women reported a stronger interest in going back to school, a majority of respondents (59 percent) both male and female reported that training and education and additional responsibility in general have helped move careers forward. We see this as a sign that many employees refuse to be stagnant. They are interested in looking for ways to move forward and reinvent opportunity for themselves.”

Pay & Promotion: More Men Asking for Promotions, Equal Numbers Asking for a Raise

Given the hubbub around the importance of building negotiation skills for women, it was surprising to see that the percentages of individuals who had negotiated a raise were fairly similar, with only a slightly lower percentage of females (44%) having done so than men (48%).

But what was surprising was that the percentage of males (39%) who had asked for a promotion was significantly larger than that of females (28%). With the global pay gap not going anywhere for the time being (in fact, last week’s White House report on women noted that in the US that women still make only about 80% as much as men for equal work), this could provide a reason why.

It’s not enough to ask for a raise – if women want to make more money, perhaps they need to ask for more responsibilities or a higher status within the organization first. DeJongh was hesitant to say that asking for a promotion first will lead to making more money. But she pointed out that with so many employees reportedly dissatisfied in their careers, employers should make sure they are really listening to what their employees want, both males and females.

“While the survey didn’t specifically ask about status, it’s a good reminder for companies to really listen to employees and investigate the source of dissatisfaction and understand what employees are looking for. For example, in this research, respondents attribute their lack of current job satisfaction to a variety of issues, ranging from being underpaid and a lack of opportunity for growth to a lack of opportunity for career advancement and feeling trapped,” she said.

She continued, “Success means different things to different people. We were pleased to find, however, that this research suggests that women and men are equally ambitious when it comes to improving skills and reinventing opportunities for themselves despite current job dissatisfaction.”

Mentors: Women Not Getting as Much Career-Growth Advice

The importance of mentors and sponsors is deservedly getting the spotlight lately, especially considering the recent release of two studies on the subject by Catalyst and the Center for Work/Life Policy.

Both studies revealed the importance of mentor and sponsor relationships – and the Accenture study confirms it. The study reveals that while about the same percentage of women (32%) and men (31%) had formal or informal mentors, they’re relying on them for different kinds of support.

Significantly more men (49%) than women (40%) had planned career moves with a mentor, while more women (47%) than men (38%) used their mentor as a sounding board. What this boils down to is that more men are discussing the next level with their mentors. And more women are discussing the status quo.

This is not to say that men are more ambitious than women. Certainly, women face challenges in the workplace that men do not, and it’s not surprising that many women need more “sounding board” support from their mentor. The quality and content of mentor and sponsor relationships is key to career growth – and this study illustrates that women are not getting those critical career-growth conversations as often as men.

According to deJongh, “Employers should create a culture of distinguishing between, and supporting both mentoring and sponsorship – and women should be proactive and seek out mentors and sponsors, ask for help, and find advocates to help them move up and be recognized for their talents and achievements.”

Are Female Execs Getting the Support they Need from Their Employer to Be Ambitious?

To sum up, according to the study, a large number of women and men are dissatisfied with their current career, but they don’t plan to change companies. They’re seeking career development opportunities, and many more women than men plan to further their education to do so. Women are negotiating for raises in roughly the same numbers as men, but they aren’t asking for promotions. And at the same time, they also aren’t having as many career-development conversations with their mentors as men – if they even have a mentor.

Altogether, it does seem that women want to advance in their careers, but they aren’t getting the necessary support from their companies to achieve their ambitions. Since they’re not receiving advice from a mentor or role model on how to get there, they’re seeking more education opportunities. And they’re using mentor relationships as a place to blow off steam or toss around issues within their current role.

As the economy improves and more companies no doubt begin the hiring cycle, considering the rising understanding that diverse voices bring added value to an organization, companies would be wise to provide high performing executive women they support they need.

As deJongh explained, “What we hope executives learn from our research is that right now there is a huge opportunity to engage employees – both men and women – in order to help them become more successful. Employees are looking to reinvent opportunities at their current jobs and if executives can listen to employees and provide them with innovative training throughout every level of their careers, leadership development, flexibility, and clearly-defined career paths they can better engage their employees and help them be more successful.”

Simply claiming that women aren’t reaching the top ranks of organizations because they want to define success for themselves is a cop-out. There are institutional barriers in place, and organizations need to take steps to remove them. If organizations aren’t providing women with critical career growth planning and opportunities, women will go elsewhere.

Leave a Reply