In my most recent cultural audit, ‘commitment to family’ was cited by both men and women as the number one barrier to women’s career advancement.
47% of women said it was the biggest barrier and 100% of men agreed.
The reasons for their opinion differed.
Most men were of the view that women chose not to have a career and a family because they could not and did not want to manage both.
Women said the primary reason for making this choice, if indeed it was a choice, was because the organisational culture placed a premium on behaviours and norms that valued hours over outcomes and provided too few support systems and processes to enable flexibility without penalty.
Most said their career was stalled not because they chose to slow it down but rather that they were systematically side-lined or subject to assumptions and stereotypes that limited opportunity and advancement:
- they were given fewer opportunities than colleagues without children
- assumptions were made about their commitment or willingness to accept challenging projects or assignments
- work was allocated with no discussion about priorities or deadlines
- training was forfeited because no relief was provided for already heavy workloads
- they were excluded from knowledge and information loops because they could not attend out-of-hours networking events
- job sharing was dismissed and working from home refused.
Additionally, as women returned from maternity leave and became increasingly subject to bias, their confidence and self-belief plummeted and they felt less able to assert themselves.
Organisations cannot afford to lose the experience and talent of any staff. Leaders can and must ensure that women are not forced to choose between family and careers and that they are provided with the opportunity, the challenge and the support required for them to achieve the best outcomes.
To get started:
- Ensure that all staff have the ability, infrastructure and support to work flexibly without penalty
- Discuss work allocation and responsibilities openly with individuals and teams and engage staff in developing a collaborative model of work
- Ensure all staff have documented career plans with training and development needs identified and in place to support them
- Ensure that advancement is focused on skills and abilities rather than time served or hours worked
- Invest in gender/diversity awareness training to help eliminate unintentional bias and assumptions
- Hold managers accountable for ensuring gender parity in the allocation of work assignments, promotions, high profile and prestigious work
- Actively and explicitly encourage women to apply for positions and promotions
- Sponsor a women’s network or seminar series with high profile women acting as mentors and role models for women
- Provide coaching and mentoring to women to assist with confidence building and career planning.
It is possible for women to have a family and a career, but the organisational culture, systems and practices must support them to achieve both.
Harnessing the entire talent pool requires, shifting mind sets and being open to explore and imbed alternative ways of working. It requires leaders with a vision, commitment and a willingness to change the status quo.