Female middle managers ‘frustrated by lack of career progression’

UK business could potentially benefit by £5bn a year if companies unblocked the talent pipeline for their 500,000 female middle managers, according to a new report.

It highlights a high level of frustration caused by a lack of opportunity and clarity of career path that female talent is experiencing at middle management level. It also shows that woman believe they have it tougher than men when it comes to career progression.

Research commissioned by talent management and resourcing solutions provider Alexander Mann Solutions, and women in business specialists everywoman, reveals that 43 per cent of female middle managers feel they are likely to leave their current employer in the next two years.


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The report, ‘Focus on the Pipeline: Engaging the full potential of female middle managers’, is based on research involving 400 female middle managers and 200 senior HR leaders, from SMEs and corporates across a range of sectors.

More than half of female middle managers (53 per cent) feel that career progression is harder for women than men. Four per cent believe it’s more difficult for men than women, 18 per cent believe it’s difficult for both genders and 24 per cent believe it is not difficult for either. Fifty-seven per cent feel that men are more likely to be promoted on their potential than women and 65 per cent feel there is a compromise between raising a family and climbing the career ladder.

Rosaleen Blair, founder and CEO of Alexander Mann Solutions, says: “This is a wealth of valuable experience and expertise that businesses will be losing, often to competitors. Addressing the pipeline for female talent should be a major focus for businesses of all sizes.”

Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman, adds: “After 13 years of working with women in business we know all about the frustrations and challenges that women face. While diversity is much more front of mind than several years ago, some companies still don’t know where to start to unlock the productivity of their female middle managers. The good news is that there are practical steps companies can take to improve their female talent pipeline.”

The aspects of work that female middle managers were least satisfied with were the lack of opportunities (48 per cent), the likelihood of progression (47 per cent) and the clarity of career path (40 per cent). Only 11 per cent of female middle managers described themselves as ‘extremely satisfied’ in their job.

Rosaleen Blair adds: “It’s apparent that the ambition of female middle managers is not being channelled effectively and this will have a real impact on levels of engagement. We know that higher levels of employee engagement result in greater productivity, improving companies’ operating performance by almost 20%.”

The report shows a striking difference between HR leaders’ views and the concerns of female middle managers themselves. Although 81 per cent of female middle managers feel lack of progression is a problem, just 62 per cent of HR leaders agree. HR leaders think 35 per cent of female middle managers want to be promoted in the next two years. However, 56 per cent of women said they wanted to be promoted in that timeframe.

The report recommends several ways for improving female career progression. Companies should:

– Focus on the business case for gender diversity

– Align HR leaders’ perceptions with female middle managers’ ambitions

– Include female middle managers in succession planning

– Encourage female middle managers to take more responsibility for their own careers

– Extend flexible working options further along the pipeline

– Reshape female middle managers’ relationship with senior women role models

“There is a lot of research that shows that companies with higher levels of women in senior positions deliver stronger organisational and financial performance as well as better returns for shareholders. This is an extremely compelling business case for increasing gender diversity business,” says Rosaleen Blair.

“However, focusing on increasing the numbers of women on boards is missing the fundamental problem of how to improve the pipeline of talented women from middle management to senior management. Female talent is often lost at this middle management level, so businesses need to give this segment of the workforce more attention.”

Karen Gill adds: “While we know female middle managers are ambitious, with 56 per cent wanting to progress in the next two years, they are being held back by not expressing these ambitions and by waiting for their organisation to help them with career development. To continue to advance, as the majority want to, they must work with their organisations to improve their communication skills through personal development and clear feedback.”

When it comes to who is best at promoting gender diversity in the workplace, middle management (49 per cent) and women (48 per cent) are seen as the most effective. The CEO and Board came in at just 36 per cent, lowest equal with those responsible for retention.

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