What HR can do to ensure a productive female talent pipeline
Focusing on positioning women on boards should never slow down. But ensuring women are in leadership roles is only the first step to guaranteeing a productive female talent pipeline. An ongoing challenge for any business is creating and strengthening their female talent pipeline from entry-level upwards to ensure that women don’t get caught up with what is called by the UK CMI the “missing middle”. While women outnumber men at junior levels not enough make it to middle management and the top]73% of entry-level roles are occupied by women, this reduces to just 43% in middle management roles and again to less than 20% in senior roles. According to the CMI there are not enough women in the pipeline to fill the yawning gap needed to achieve gender parity.
“The UK economy will need two million new managers by 2024, and 1.5 million will need to be women if we are to achieve gender balance”
Here are 4 steps to create a productive female talent pipeline
Businesses that embrace gender balance are more successful. There is enough Big Data out there to support that. Yet we see these incongruous anomalies that just don’t jive. How is the needle sticking?
What steps can HR take to move things on?
Take early action
Women who join organisations today are for the most part optimistic and believe they can be anything they want to be. Many twenty-somethings can be blissfully unaware of the barriers that exist, until they actually hit them. By that time the wake-up call may be too late and disillusionment sets in. Entry-level is the time to engage women to give them career development support and skill training before they are eligible for Middle Management positions. Many employers focus their energy only on a handful of hi-po women. Extending this to a wider group will help grow a more productive female talent pipeline. Employees develop new skills and missing competencies can be learned. Making decisions for employee development too early, is limiting.
Female employees should also be encouraged early on to take charge of their own careers. There is still an expectation in some quarters that the employer will take care of them, which for many will not be the case. Early training and competency development is critical. If the employer won’t deal with it, early careerists must take on that responsibility themselves.
Give regular constructive feedback
There is enough research that suggests that women generally (although not always) prefer regular feedback and communication. Male managers should be trained to deliver this appropriately, as there is enormous potential for miscommunication. Women tend also to be treated more harshly than men and held to a higher standard. There need to be accountability checks to manage that.
I very often hear that because organisations have a women’s group and unconscious bias training, they are believed have every and therefore “equal” opportunity. This is clearly not the case. Women need to be both mentored, sponsored and have access to senior women. They can’t be what they can’t see and hear. Their careers should be discussed openly with them and stretch or international assignments encouraged earlier in their careers than is now normal. Men who mentor women should be specifically trained. There is no ill intent but men do not know what’s going on for women and need support on how to approach some of their challenges. They generally don’t understand that the presenting issue itself is not always the deal-breaker. There is sub-text.
Implement systemic “nudges”
As people can’t be relied on to change their behaviour consistently, it’s necessary to embed “nudges” in all systems related to career progression, whether adverts or performance evaluations. Gender-neutral ads stripped of male coded language are becoming increasingly common. Many companies now insist that there should be at least one female candidate on any shortlist even though research suggests that is doomed to fail. The ideal number is two or even three. Companies such as Google are insisting that all hiring are signed off by at least one woman to avoid confirmation bias hiring decisions.