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A new report has found that just one in four women have career discussions about how their skills can be developed, while just one in five are having an ongoing career dialogue with their manager. Here are some practical steps employers can take to accelerate gender parity, starting with effective career conversations.
May 10, 2017 – Women are underrepresented in industries that anticipate the greatest growth in jobs — engineering, technology, architecture and mathematics. But they are overrepresented in office and administration positions, sectors most threatened by digitization, automation and robotics. That’s why, recruiters report, that it’s vital for women to be open to discussions about developing their skill sets and other matters that will prepare them for the future.
Career conversations are critical in helping women align their career goals and motivations with their company’s needs, as well as to reaffirm their strengths, development and career opportunities. Yet a recent report from Right Management, part of Manpower Group, reveals that just one in five female leaders have ongoing career conversations with their manager. Research has repeatedly pointed out that women fail to raise their hands until they know they are capable of doing a job, so they may not actively seek stretch assignments. If women aren’t self-promoting to their predominantly male leaders, just how will female leaders advance?
“Employers need to invest in career conversations to develop and retain women and ensure they have the skills needed to take advantage in shifts in industries and jobs so they are not left behind,” said Mara Swan, executive vice president, global strategy and talent, ManpowerGroup, and global brand lead for Right Management. “While we cannot slow the rate of technological advance, we can invest in employees’ skills to increase the relevance and resilience of our people and organizations, regardless of gender or social background. Fortunately, men don’t own the corner on learnability. It’s up to both employers and individuals to nurture learnability and upskill.”
Right Management’s new report ‘Women, We Have a Problem,’ presents new research and practical steps to help employers achieve gender parity, starting with the easiest and most cost effective step of all: career conversations.
How Women Will Win In a Skills Revolution
Rarely a day goes by without news of digitization, artificial intelligence and virtual reality impacting the workplace. Left unspoken is that employees will need new skills and they will have to refresh them more often to stay employable for jobs that that may yet to even exist.
According to the Right Management report, the life cycle of skills is shorter than ever before and an individual’s employability will depend on his or her “learnability,” which is described as the desire and ability to learn new skills to stay relevant for the long-term. It’s up to both employers and individuals to foster that outlook.
Yet one in five women has never had an assessment of their skills, according to the report, and one in four has never had a conversation about how they can develop. And while technology advancement will continue unabated, ongoing career conversations and investment in skills development will boost the relevance and resilience of women.
What Employers Aren’t Doing
The importance of profit and loss is critical for advancement, but few women recognize this and often get stranded halfway up the career ladder. Looking at macro numbers and averages is not enough and can result in concentrations of women in HR, communications and support roles. More than mentoring, women need coaching and sponsorship to succeed, and experience and exposure to advance.
What defines a sponsor versus a mentor, meanwhile, is often misunderstood. According to Right Management, women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Mentors may act as a sounding board and make women feel more comfortable, but they do little to help them get ahead. Sponsors develop talent and help women to get promoted.
The Right Management report says sponsors have open conversations, help address how work gets done and the way performance is measured. They also create a culture of conscious inclusion and support and consciously advocate for women in the boardroom. For many women, lack of access to a sponsor and an inability to identify an influential network can stall a woman’s progression. Eighty four percent of women have been unable to find a sponsor within their organization.
Forty percent of women would like to have more conversations about their opportunities for growth, according the Right Management report. And when it comes to career conversations, what works for women works for the entire workforce. If organizations truly want more women in leadership roles and to account for half of the talent in the workforce, they must go beyond mere programs and change the culture. Employers can take practical steps to engage employees and meet business goals.
Questions to Explore
Right Management developed a series of questions to explore with employees to help answer the questions they care about most and get the career conversation started:
- Who am I? How do I fit? The helps the employee clarify their career goals, and match these with their values, motivations and abilities.
- What is expected of me? This creates an opportunity to work with the employee to develop goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
- How will my talents and contributions be recognized? Meaningful dialogue about what intrinsic motivations engage the employee and how those might change.
- How am I doing? An ongoing conversation between manager and employee to observe strengths and opportunities and provide feedback.
- What’s next for me? Finding a comfortable place between the employee, manager and organization to identify steps to reach the next career goal.
- What and how should I develop? Laying out a developmental timeline of individual skills needed for the current role, future roles and to remain employable.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief and Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor — Hunt Scanlon Media