What holds women back in the workplace? A new in-depth study suggests that rather than lack of confidence or an ability to move outside their comfort zone, it is because women feel undervalued and feel that they are not listened to – and it causes demotivation and disengagement.
The Stretch Potential report by the Women’s Sat Nav to Success is based on 198 detailed survey responses.
The aim of the report is, says Diana Parkes, founder of the Women’s Sat Nav to Success, is to identity practical ways women can make progress: “Wider research shows that organisations committed to the goal of improving gender diversity are struggling to make tangible progress, so we believe that the need is to pinpoint the most influential challenges and identify the most pragmatic strategies to overcome them for the long term. This means that organisations can focus their limited resources where they will make a tangible difference that will promote a virtuous cycle of positive improvement.”
The survey builds on previous research by Women’s Sat Nav to Success to identify the range of strategic enablers of women’s success at work based on interviews with 45 female leaders from across a representative range of fields and functions.
The report notes that most women feel very sure of their capabilities suggesting they are not lacking in confidence. They also enjoy having access to challenging work and stepping out of their comfort zone, as evidenced by high engagement scores and by negative scores when their work is not demanding enough. One in three women below senior management, including engineers and other highly qualified women, say they are not fulfilled at work, suggesting their potential is not being developed fully.
The report says that what causes “a profound, widespread and potentially long term negative impact” is how women’s contributions are valued. The research identifies evidence of a critical contribution-value gap – the difference between the proportion of respondents who routinely contribute and the proportion who feel that their contribution is valued. Some 72.1% of women ‘speak up’, according to the survey, but only 55.3% feel their contributions are consistently valued. The report says: “This is eroding willingness to engage, as reported in a third of all respondents.”
In addition only one in 10 women are clear on their career path. This is less about not knowing what they want, but rather that what they want isn’t available or accessible to them within their organisation. The report says where there is clarity on the range and level of competencies, this has a direct and positive impact on both engagement and levels of motivation for career progression. It also highlights that most women don’t have sponsors, although those who do feel much more engaged and motivated.
Other issues covered by the report include:
– the importance of a supportive company culture
– the negative impact on career drive of carrying the lion’s share of domestic work at home
– the impact on resilience levels of lack of active support (sponsor / mentor) and the contribution-value gap
– the fact that women are not pro-actively and habitually putting themselves forward for new opportunities or higher rewards. 86.2% of respondents said that they wait for the ‘appropriate point’ in the organisation’s process to ask or to be made an offer (of a pay increase, promotion, special project or other benefit or opportunity) and one third of women do not ask for anything beyond ‘small benefits’.
In addition, a third of those surveyed reported ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ attending work-related networking events with many women finding the nature of these events and the behaviours they associate with them, uncomfortable and other reporting difficulty balancing home responsibilities with out of office hours events.
The report has a series of recommendations for employers, including tackling unconscious bias, training managers to ensure all contributions and contributors are actively and demonstrably appreciated, identifying why women might feel no clear sense of career progression, putting in place one-to-one career mapping, promoting sponsorship of women, examining strategies to provide more challenging work and proactively supporting and encouraging men to take an equal role in their domestic lives.
And for women it suggests actions such as strategic awareness and negotiation training, adopting a more nuanced and more consistent approach to self promotion and finding ways to participate in networking and build social capital.