High potential programs hinder women

by 06 May 2009

Gender discrimination still prevails in organisations around the world, but is now largely behind closed doors and preventing female leaders reaching their executive potential.

A recent report has found that the deck is stacked against working women from the earliest days of their careers, because female leaders are under-represented in accelerated development programs early in their careers, which hinders their climb up the ladder.

The Development Dimensions International (DDI) report found that at the first level of leadership, there were 28 per cent more men in high-potential programs, while at the executive level, there were 50 per cent more men than women in such programs.

The report, which included data from more than 12,000 leaders from 76 countries, also found that men were twice as likely as women to have multinational leadership roles.

“There is nothing new about women being under-represented in the C-suite – but this research reveals what is holding back women who aspire to higher leadership positions,” said Ann Howard, DDI’s chief scientist.

“[And that is] that discrimination is less visible and starts so early in their career that it cripples their ability to compete with a male colleague who has had more opportunity. If they don’t make it into these programs, their chances for an executive promotion are slim – and they don’t know it until it’s too late.”

Howard said the practice of putting more men through high-potential programs serves to keep them in the top positions in organisations, even when leadership ranks are primarily female.

The report found that because many of the accelerated programs (such as high potential programs and one-on-one mentorship) are secret or happen behind closed doors, organisations aren’t held accountable for gender imbalance.

Having women represented in significant numbers at every leadership level doesn’t mean that will carry to the executive level, and the report found there was a backlash against women at the top when they are dominant in leadership roles at every other level.


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