Why women are disappearing from the career pipeline

Business News | 30 Nov |

Corporate America is increasingly aware that gender diversity and inclusion of all groups is good for the bottom line; but the corporate career pipeline for women remains stubbornly leaky, particularly for women of color, meaning women are disappearing from the career and leadership trajectory at every stage of their professional lives. This is according to a curated research report prepared by Bentley University’s Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business (CWB) to highlight the factors behind the leaky pipeline and dive into interventions for U.S. businesses and for women.

The report notes several primary reasons why the leaky pipeline persists, including early barriers. Entry-level women, for example, start out making 20 percent less than their male peers, and women are 21 percent less likely than male peers to be promoted to the first level of management. Women in mid-career often face unconscious bias against mothers and work-life balance issues. Compared to men, women lack adequate access to career-building relationships such as sponsors, mentors, role models and networks.

“More often than not, these problems reflect an outmoded culture – workplaces that require a 24-7 mentality, offer inadequate flex options, or have leaders that don’t set the right tone,” says Trish Foster, CWB senior director and lead author of The Pipeline Predicament: Fixing the Talent Pipeline.

The CWB report, based on an extensive review of prominent research and media coverage, compiles an array of initiatives for companies that want to improve diversity and gender equity in the workplace. The interventions fall into four broad categories:

• Culture and leadership: Encourage diverse leadership styles, establish a business case for diversity that supports the company’s goals, and address unconscious bias through formal training programs. Engage men in gender diversity initiatives. Download the CWB report Men as Allies: Engaging Men to Advance Women in the Workplace for more on male allyship.

• Metrics: Harness the right metrics by ensuring your CEO, other top leaders and frontline managers are involved in the metrics process. Establish clear, understandable, actionable metrics around the following five dynamics: recruitment, retention, advancement, representation and pay.

• People programs and processes: Train and support frontline managers and hold them accountable for diversity and inclusion goals. Consider workplace flexibility to support work-life balance and support caregivers. Offer gender-specific leadership training. Implement effective hiring and promotion techniques such as assembling a diverse applicant pool, blind assessments, diverse interviewers, pay equity, and pro-diversity language in job postings. (The report includes a detailed checklist.)

• Game-changing relationships: Provide mentors and sponsors for women and other underrepresented groups. Train senior people in allyship, micro-inequities, the importance of trust and the role they need to play. Establish and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help foster professional development, encourage a more inclusive overall environment and provide a “safe zone” for employees.

The report also includes a list of tips to help women build and maintain confidence and aspirations and identify career challenges and goals, as well as advice from women who made it to the top.

“The good news is that studies demonstrate commitment to improved gender representation in most companies, especially at the top. A critical key to success is closing the gap between intent and implementation,” says Foster. “Employers need to implement top-to-bottom interventions and ensure that everyone in the organization feels accountable for results.”

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