It’s hardly breaking news that, in many instances, women are still facing a glass ceiling when it comes to reaching to partner or board level.
However, recent trends suggest that there may be more to the problem than the typical factors involved, such as plain discrimination, long breaks from the office and flexible working needs. The fact is that there is a significant group of women who are turning down the top jobs. In a study conducted by Burson and Marsteller in 2001, 27% of Senior Executives said they were not interested in becoming CEO and in 2005, this figure had risen to over 60%.
So why are women avoiding the board room and what can be done to encourage them to accept more responsibility when it’s offered?
1. Some people don’t want to be managers. It’s a fact that most senior roles involve people management in some form. This isn’t gender specific, but some just don’t want to move from the nitty gritty technical aspect of the job, the part that they love and are good at, to managing people. This can be problematic as it’s one of the common factors in career progression. Not everybody wants to give up doing in favour of delegating. Some companies are now recognising that talent does not always mean that someone has to be a manager per se and, just as importantly, that management is an art in itself and would be best suited to those who are interested in it, and so are offering alternative career paths, such as promotions within technical roles that don’t involve line management responsibilities.
2. Leadership, at least at board level, currently connotes long hours. One of the reasons that many women shy away from that level of responsibility is that work/life balance is too important to sacrifice for a job. It’s not that women aren’t up to the challenge, it’s that now that doors are opening for them, the prospects aren’t as appealing as they perhaps were to men several years ago. If women have families, regardless of who cares for them, they want to spend time with them. Perhaps it’s time to ditch traditional CEO or board level roles and look at what flexible or remote working can offer.
3. This doesn’t just apply to women but many women have had the benefit of seeing the downsides to the top jobs from an external perspective. Coming out of a difficult financial few years, it’s natural that if many people will have seen their bosses having to make sweeping redundancies, pay cuts or even close down altogether, that becoming a leader isn’t number one on their priority list.
While many men are already in leadership roles, the doors are just opening for women and it’s important that, if we’re to break the glass ceiling, we move with the times. What was acceptable in the eighties isn’t necessarily the working style that people are attracted to today, particularly with the options that giant leaps in technology have provided us with.
Of course little can be done about eliminating the stresses that come with the responsibilities of leadership, but much can be done to tailor career paths and working hours to suit the needs of an individual who, in the right conditions, could be an indispensible member of a leadership team.