The Cranfield School of Management released its 2018 Female FTSE board report last week, showing a flatlining or decline in the number of women in executive roles in FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies. So the debate around the lack of women’s progress into top jobs continues. A persistent challenge is the shortage of women in the talent pipeline – which the Chartered Management Institute has called the ‘Missing Middle’.
Reasons for the lack of progress are of course complex, but three of the biggest contributory factors are:
Unlike previous generations the majority of women now opt to return to work very quickly after having children. It’s at this point they are likely to discover their employer’s culture is not set up to support them. Working practices and career paths continue to be based on the outmoded notion of the ‘ideal worker’ – committed one hundred and ten percent to the job and unencumbered by outside responsibilities.
At first glance it appears the working mother has choices – although each comes with a compromise.
She can opt to reduce her hours or ask for a flexible arrangement. Where this is agreed it’s likely to be at the cost of career progression; and in some cases she may even be asked to step back into a more junior role.
She can move herself from the career track onto the ‘mommy track’ where working hours are more manageable. The pressures are lower, but so are the rewards.
If she believes neither of these is available to her in her current employment she can look for a flexible role elsewhere – often giving up seniority as the trade-off for flexibility.
Or she may be seduced into the growing world of ‘mumpreneurship’ where she can continue to earn a living while organising her work around her family.
I’m not knocking any of these options. For some women they will prove to be very successful alternatives. But for many they come at a cost: lost careers and lost lifetime earnings.
And while we focus on the choices working mothers apparently have, we ignore the one choice denied to many: the option to remain with their employer and continue progressing their career in a more balanced way.
The proportion of flexible and reduced hours jobs at middle and senior manager level remains minute. As an expert in the re-balancing of work, I’ve become frustrated by the inertia and resistance to change in many organisations. Particularly so when the skills exist to re-design jobs for both balance and better productivity.
I’ve channelled my frustration into developing a six step process (PROPEL) that will empower working mothers to take things into their own hands and:
It’s all in my new book ‘Don’t discard your corporate career – #Upcycle it!’
When they pressed for practices such as part-time and term-time working, our mothers and grandmothers started the workplace revolution. The time has come to finish it by giving women real choices.
*Anna Meller is currently crowdfunding to publish her book. You can learn more and support her here.