Way women are managed limits female career progression, says study

Equality woman and man


Women miss out on critical experiences offered to men to achieve promotion, according to a new study from the 30% Club which looks at the role of management in women’s career progression.

The study, ‘Just about Managing’, is based on interviews with managers and their reports from 10 large corporates and focuses on how managers affect gender diversity through the executive pipeline.

Responses from male and female interviewees to questions about how they work with their report/manager reveal gender differences that particularly affect women’s progression at the mid-career stage, says the 30% Club. It states that female managers are twice as likely to be personally involved in developing their people while male managers are three times more likely to outsource developing their report.

Rachel Short, Director at Why Women Work and 30% Club Steering Committee member, who co-led the research, said: “Managers focus on specific opportunities for their male reports, who are steered towards deepening their skillset and getting the critical experience they need for promotion. This contrasts with how managers develop their female reports, who are encouraged to adapt their approach and to broaden their professional experience to open up a range of career options.  Whilst it’s true that women receive support from their manager on raising their profile through their professional relationships, men are being put forward for CV-boosting experiences, such as MBAs and secondments.”

The research also reveals that development declines with seniority.  Whilst junior managers work closely with their reports and provide day-to-day feedback and advice, executives and senior managers spend very little time managing or developing their people, says the study.  Time spent with a manager drops from 29% for female reports and 24% for male reports, to just 5% for both genders.

Pavita Cooper, Founder of More Difference and 30% Club Steering Committee member, who also co-led the research, said: “Things get tough at the top where senior managers are not actively readying their reports for the next level of seniority. Couple that with the fact that it is men who get better preparation for specific roles by their managers, and we’re faced with a group of women left lacking both the managerial support and the concrete know-how to step into senior executive roles. We need to start pulling women through for promotion much earlier on so that we can establish a deep pipeline of female executive talent.”

Responses from those interviewed also reveal that female managers are more active in encouraging diversity through the executive pipeline. When managers were asked: ‘If your male/female report were to be promoted into your role, how would she/he do things differently from you?’, female managers were optimistic and expansive about the different skills and experiences that their reports would bring to the table. Male managers, however, expected their reports to have a broadly similar approach to them and were more likely to describe any perceived difference as a potential risk.

Rachel Short added: “There have been a number of reports in the past linking women with organisational innovation.  This research reveals how some male, but many more female, managers create a team climate that values individual difference and welcomes shifts in leadership style. Having more female managers is a clear ‘double whammy’ for organisational change efforts.”


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