It used to be about fixing the women
As more women entered the workforce in the 1970s and 80s, employers introduced practices such as flexible working, job sharing, and on-site childcare, or crÃ¨ches. The goal was to help women manage the competing pressures of work and home life, but they became a double-edged sword.
Women who took advantage of these benefits often found themselves labeled as being on the â€œmommy trackâ€ â€“ a professional path, but one that provides fewer opportunities for advancement.
For employers looking to rectify a gender imbalance in senior management, Lucy Marcus, professor of leadership and governance at IE Business School in Madrid, says: â€œCompanies need to ask themselves: do we have the kind of environment that gives women what they need to be successful?â€
Of course women need many of the same things as men to achieve: new and stimulating challenges, a collegial and professional atmosphere, for example. But the disproportionate numbers of men at the top suggests companies need to pay special attention to developing women leaders, according to Prof Marcus, who is also chief executive of Marcus Venture Consulting, and a non-executive chair of the Mobius Life Sciences Fund.
Women ought to have ample opportunities to improve basic skills, such as public speaking, writing, negotiation, and networking. They need peer mentors and role models; and they need opportunities for international exposure, she argues.
â€œWe know that to become a chief executive today you need to have done a tour abroad. I spoke to one [male] chief executive who said â€˜we donâ€™t like to ask women [to move overseas] because we donâ€™t want to ask them to uproot their familiesâ€™,â€ says Prof Marcus. â€œBut that should be her personal choice.â€
She says that while companies â€œcan throw money at the problem â€¦ the dirty secret is that this doesnâ€™t have to cost a lot of money. It comes down to the attitude of the company and the way it integrates women into senior management.â€
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