Women lack ‘key career experience’ to get to the top

While women rate higher in overall competencies for senior leadership positions, they lack key career experiences that tend to give men an edge up on promotions at the most senior levels of organisation, according to research from leadership and talent consultants Korn Ferry.

The Korn Ferry research found that with the exception of confidence, women generally score higher than men in all dimensions of leadership style and in most of the skills and competencies deemed necessary for senior leadership success, such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction and building talent.

“What women are missing are the experiences that their male counterparts seek out during mid-level and business unit level roles,” said J. Evelyn Orr, senior director of the Korn Ferry Institute and editor of Korn Ferry’s research on women in leadership. “Women need to seek out and say ‘yes’ to experiences that stretch their skills and organisations need to provide women with opportunities to accept those challenges earlier in their careers.”

These critical experiences include challenging/difficult situations, business growth, financials, strategy, and high-risk, high-visibility assignments such as helping turn around a low-performing unit. The study shows women are either not being offered or are saying “no” to critical opportunities more often, leaving them a full leadership level behind in experiences when they are considered for senior positions.

“Decades of Korn Ferry research proves that effective leaders move beyond technical skills to practising well-developed relational/social and influencing/political confidence and skills,” said Korn Ferry Managing Principal Peggy Hazard. “In achieving these skills, women often face obstacles, including different gender norms and ‘unwritten rules’ around power, risk, critical experiences, teaming, networking, style of presentation and communication. With the right development programmes, women can build confidences, identify unique barriers and learn how to navigate obstacles to reach their goals.”

Hazard also highly recommends complementing development programmes with pairs coaching between women and their managers and/or other key stakeholders. “There is exponential impact when there is a shared responsibility. Skillfully guided dialogues build affinity and candour about barriers and how to tackle them, transforming actual working relationships from good to great. Not only does this have a far-reaching business benefit, it effectively changes the culture by changing the mindset of leaders and engaging men as allies.”

Additional Korn Ferry research points to the need to examine not only the skills and competencies of individuals (what they do) but their traits and drivers or motivations (who they are). The research shows that when all aspects of individuals are examined, assessments are 96 percent more predictive of future success.


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