Understanding how we can help career advancement for women in the workplace

Understanding how we can help career advancement for women in the workplace

Women have long faced challenges with equality in the workplace. Though they've made great strides in the last few decades, women have also experienced some major setbacks in recent years. It's crucial for employers to recognize the state of women in the workplace so they can take steps to promote gender diversity and the advancement of female workers.

Recovering from the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 set women's equality in the workplace back by an entire generation. The World Economic Forum predicted it would take 100 years to reach gender parity before the pandemic. This increased to 135.6 years after COVID-19 hit for a variety of reasons. For example, the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, such as tourism and retail, employed a high number of women. Further, many parents had to navigate child care for children who were no longer able to attend school or day care, and mothers are three times as likely as fathers to take primary responsibility for child care.

It's important for businesses to recognize the gender disparities that might have grown during the pandemic. While men have recouped their losses in the labor force since the pandemic, there were 1 million fewer women in the workforce in January 2022 than in February 2020. Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the World Economic Forum, told CNBC, "If businesses want to have the ... creativity and innovation that will get them out of the crisis, they need diversity, and so they need to think of this as a business investment as well."

Fixing the broken rung

Women are no longer struggling primarily with the glass ceiling at the top of their career climb but with the broken rung at the bottom of the ladder. This refers to the difficulty women face in achieving that first promotion to a management-level job. McKinsey & Company's Women in the Workplace Report has identified this broken rung as a major hindrance for eight consecutive years. 

"Career development coaching can help repair the broken rung, providing valuable mentorship and instruction to equip women for advancement."

In 2022, this report found that only 87 women were promoted from entry-level jobs to management positions for every 100 men. This gives men a head start on the ladder and makes it nearly impossible for an equal number of women to catch up. Women are enthusiastic about pursuing promotions. One in three women indicated they applied for a promotion in 2021. However, only 40% of these women were successful in landing that promotion, compared to 52% of men.

You can see the effect of this broken rung clearly when you look up the ladder. Women represent:

  • 48% of the workforce in entry-level jobs
  • 40% of management positions 
  • 36% of senior manager or directorship jobs
  • 32% of VPs
  • 28% of SVPs
  • 26% of C-suite positions

Companies that actively promote women in their workforce often attract more women at all levels. A Black female manager quoted in the McKinsey report commented, "When I joined this company, I noticed there were a lot of women and people of color in leadership. That let me know it was possible for me to advance."

Career development coaching can help repair the broken rung, providing valuable mentorship and instruction to equip women for advancement. Career coaches can help individuals clarify goals, chart a road map for career advancement, and hone key skills to get there. Companies can implement such programs internally by identifying employees with great potential who might benefit from additional support. Investing in coaching for these individuals offers great ROI, as this HR initiative can help enhance the talent within the organization's own pipeline.

Realizing the value of women in the workforce

Workplace diversity creates notable benefits for businesses. Harvard Business Review evaluated the venture capital industry to assess the impact diversity has on financial outcomes. Only 8% of venture capitalists are women, yet companies that increased their number of female partners by 10% saw a 1.5% increase in overall annual fund returns. These businesses also had 9.7% more profitable exits in an industry where only 28.8% of all investments have a profitable exit.

Women offer value in other ways, as well:

  • Having women on the board improves the company's profitability and function. Fortune 500 companies that fill at least 30% of their leadership roles with women can expect to increase their net margins by more than 1 percentage point. 
  • Organizations with gender diversity average a 21% increase in profitability.
  • Companies with 30% more female executives outperform their competitors with fewer women in leadership by 10 to 30%.
  • When women are in top management positions, companies produce 20% more patents.

It's crucial for businesses to maintain great leadership. Study results indicate 75% of people quit their jobs because of their boss, and 65% of employees would refuse a pay raise if it meant they could replace their boss. Women in leadership outperform men in several key ways. When employees were asked how their managers assisted and supported them through 2021, the results indicated female leaders are more likely to:

  • Provide emotional support
  • Check on employees' overall well-being
  • Ensure a manageable workload for employees
  • Help employees manage their work-life balance
  • Mitigate burnout

Understanding what women want

Businesses that understand what women seek in their workplace can better align their operations with these desires to help attract women to their workforce. Women often struggle to get adequate recognition for their contributions. Forty-two percent of women indicate they're seeking a promotion because they're already performing tasks above and beyond their role. Meanwhile, this is true of just 31% of men.

Women prefer to work remotely more than men. While 61% of women prefer to do most of their work remotely, this is true of just 50% of men. Only 10% of women want to work mostly on-site, while 18% of men would like to do so. This is probably because remote work facilitates a better work-life balance, and many women handle most child care and housework duties. 

Women also prefer to work from home because it creates a more comfortable and supportive environment. While 29% of women experience microaggressions when they work mostly on-site, only 19% of women experience this when they do most of their work remotely. Women living with disabilities often struggle with micromanaging when they're on-site in the workplace, with just 69% indicating their managers consistently trust them to get their work done. When women living with disabilities work mostly remotely, 82% indicate their managers consistently express this trust.

To gain and retain women in the workplace, managers must promote inclusion. Only 49% of companies train their managers on how to make sure promotions are fair and equitable. Just 47% of companies train their managers on how to facilitate team conversations on issues of diversity.

Women thrive in the workplace when managers:

  • Provide helpful feedback
  • Manage workload
  • Show interest in employees' careers
  • Check in on workers' well-being
  • Give credit for work
  • Encourage inclusivity and respect on teams

If managers perform these key functions, 85% of women experience equal advancement opportunities compared to just 35% of women with managers who don't take these actions. A whopping 92% of women report they're happy with their jobs when managers take these actions, compared to only 55% with managers who aren't hitting these key points. 

Acknowledging the need for more women in the workforce and training managers to actively foster gender diversity can help support career advancement and progression for women.

More tips for supporting women's advancement in the workplace

Explore how the workplace has changed since the mid-20th century.

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