Women make up roughly half of the global population, but you wouldn't guess that by looking at their representation at all levels of the workforce. Overall, they represent less than half of the workforce in most regions.
Despite decades of effort to encourage gender equality in the workplace, recent research by online training and talent solutions company Skillsoft found that women still face a number of persistent challenges in the workplace. Balancing work and home life (63%), and dealing with gender inequality in the workplace, such as "old boys clubs" (53%) and glass ceilings (50%) were among the top issues women identified in the survey.
Busting the Myths
In addition to the challenges identified in the survey, women face inaccurate mythology about their career commitment. Management consulting firm McKinsey and LeanIn.org, a nonprofit which promotes opportunities for women, collaborated on the "2015 Women in the Workplace" research report. Their findings showed that there is a perception that women leave the workforce at higher rates than men, that's actually not the case.
The result of such biases, misinformation and unequal representation women leave women underrepresented at every level of management. Eighty-seven percent of respondents to the Skillsoft survey reported that their companies had more men in senior roles than women. Women face tougher paths to promotion and encounter obstacles on the path to senior leadership. And there is an organizational cost, as well: A body of research shows that companies that promote women to leadership roles outperform companies that don't.
"It's one of the foremost obstacles to greater success in many organizations," says Tara O'Sullivan, chief creative officer at Skillsoft.
Reaping Equality's Rewards
But it's important to realize that the dynamic is not "men vs. women," says Susan G. Duffy, executive director of Babson College's Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership. She emphasizes that, over time, people and institutions may have developed a series of assumptions related to gender. There is no one simple solution that will solve gender inequality. Instead, companies need to work on awareness of the issues, and then address them through comprehensive cultural changes.
"It's important to analyze your own assumptions about the processes and structures that go on in your company regardless of your industry," Duffy says.
Companies need to address everything from the criteria on which employees are judged during performance reviews to resources available to help women succeed, O'Sullivan says. That includes implementing professional development and mentorship programs, as well as illustrating clear pathways to promotion within the organization.
Balancing the Leadership Scales
After a handful of Skillsoft's customers told them that traditional leadership training wasn't helping women advance, the company saw an opportunity to fill an important void in the market. The company worked with Jodi Detjen, a professor of management at Suffolk University and author of The Orange Line and tapped its own deep expertise in training to develop Women In Action™. The innovative new program is designed to help women throughout organizations build and immediately apply specific skills they need to advance while helping companies build infrastructures to support their success.
Content, in the form of books, videos, and other materials, covers areas such as negotiating, collaborating for impact, building work-life balance, taking risks, strategic thinking, and sponsoring and mentoring. Participants are given monthly assignments that take about one hour to complete. They are encouraged to immediately apply their skills in the workplace and reinforce what they've learned through team discussions, activities and individual reflection. In addition, they have access to online communities that include other participants. The program is scalable and can adapt to a wide variety of organizations. In addition to the learning program, Skillsoft offers organizational tools in its SumTotal HCM solutions that help compare compensation structures to ensure they're fair, and analysis of the representation of women at various levels of the company.
"Using data analytics, you can tell if different people are making different amounts of money for the same job. You're able to pull apart unconscious and conscious bias. And it's not just about women--you can see it when it comes to women, ethnic diversity, and other areas of inclusion," O'Sullivan says.
By both increasing awareness of gender bias issues in an organization and developing the skill sets women need to succeed, Women In Action™ is earning kudos among its preliminary classes. O'Sullivan says the response has ranged from excitement to surprise at how helpful it has been.
"We're giving women the kind of support and mentorship that almost anyone needs to succeed. It's just that they may not have had access to it before," she says. "Women in Action™ changes that."
Learn more about the challenges and opportunities women face in today's workplace by downloading Skillsoft's "Women in the Workforce" report here.