In some ways women have made great strides in the workplace with workforce participation growing steadily over the last 20 years, yet representation of women in senior leadership roles is relatively stagnant.1 Today more than ever, organizations are rightly under the spotlight for their approach to gender parity. Now is the time for less conversation and more action to make equal access to meaningful work and leadership positions a reality.
Each day we see firsthand technology’s impact on jobs. Most employers tell us this will be good news for workers, provided they have the right skills. Digitization and automation are happening at an unprecedented pace and we can’t predict the outcome, yet we can say with certainty that the jobs requiring greater skills proficiency are growing the fastest. This is good news for women, who now make up 57% of college graduates in the U.S. Learnability - the desire and ability to continually learn new skills to stay employable - will be the great equalizer. And men don’t own the corner on learnability.
Employers have an important role to play. The opportunity to learn and develop should be balanced with a culture of conscious inclusion and the ability to blend work and home. Women still typically spend several hours a day on caring responsibilities, and aging populations will further increase the need for eldercare. Our own Millennials research supports this; women plan to take more time out of their careers than men to care for others – for children, older relatives, partners and even to volunteer. And what works for women to create this harmony can work for all. Women and men will seek workplaces that are about performance, not presenteeism. Organizations that listen to what their people want and provide the necessary support will become talent destinations.
Here are some practical steps organizations can take:
Have career conversations
It’s up to both employers and individuals to nurture learnability and upskill. Yet one in five women has never had an assessment of their skills and one in four has never had a conversation about how they can develop. Employers should enable ongoing Career Conversations and invest in skills development so women can capture opportunity.
Be explicit – women when and where
An all-male succession bench isn’t going to cut it. We need to be explicit about where we want women to progress -- and it’s not just in roles/fields dominated by women, like HR, communications and support roles. We need women obtaining skills and experience to manage and drive the business in technical and operational positions. To get more women into leadership, we have to place more women into leadership. We have the skilled base, it’s now time for action.
Conscious inclusion starts at the top
Organizations that are serious about getting more women into leadership roles and including half the talent in the workforce must go beyond programs and change culture. Change starts from the top and must be championed by male, as well as female leaders.
The future of work won’t be a man’s world, it will be a skills world. In this Skills Revolution where new skills emerge as fast as others become obsolete enabling all people to upskill and adapt to a fast-changing world of work will be the defining challenge of our time.