Women still held back in the workplace

by Cameron Edmond12 Jun 2013

The prevalence of women in the senior ranks of the workforce is on the rise, yet there are still key barriers preventing them from advancing to the C-Suite.

A recent report from McKinsey & Company (MK&C), Unlocking the full potential of women at work,  found that women remain an ‘untapped opportunity’ in the workforce due to persisting barriers that prevent their ascension to higher positions.

The study revealed that over 325,000 women had entry-level positions at the 60 top tier companies surveyed, with nearly 140,000 having reached mid-level management. Additionally, over 80% of companies stated that gender diversity was a top priority. Despite this, most women who reach executive positions quit, retire, shift to staff roles or ‘settle in’.

Before offering solutions to these persistent and far-reaching problems, the report outlined what is preventing this rise to the senior ranks. The report found structural obstacles, lifestyle choices, and both institutional and individual mind-sets contribute to the problem.

Structural obstacles remain a factor in preventing women’s advancement due to only being resolvable if more women enter higher positions. The report found that the lack of women in executive positions prevents female employees from forging strong networks with higher-ups, thereby reducing their own chances for advancement.

Lifestyle choices prove to remain an issue, with half of the women MK&C surveyed stating they provide both the primary income and primary care in the household. This correlates with 62% of women who reach director roles shifting to staff positions. By doing so, predictability and flexibility is increased, but chances of advancement are reduced.

Institutional mind-sets relates to the expectation of many leaders for women to model their behaviour after male executives. This can result in women not being considered for roles based on their behaviour and actions. One leader told MK&C a high-performing woman was not considered for a role due to being pregnant, as they assumed she wouldn’t want to move.

Individual mind-sets are heavily impacted by the other factors mentioned and can also be a large detriment to women advancing. The studies found that over 50% of successful women felt they prevented themselves from rising in the organisation, and indicated that sponsorship earlier in their careers could have prevented this by pushing them to advance.

These findings reveal that there is still further advancement in the workplace needed for women to reach higher positions. HR managers can aid in this by identifying these factors and attempting to change the mind-sets and expectations within their organisation. Stay tuned for further HC Online news articles based on the McKinsey white paper.


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