Attitudes about advancing women into senior management roles are still polarized along gender lines. Men in senior executive positions appear to be the least concerned about increasing the number of women in the top ranks of organizations, according to a Conference Board of Canada report based on a national survey of 876 women and men, along with interviews with 29 women (15 who have reached C-suite levels and 14 emerging leaders).
Overall, 43 per cent of male managers and 68 per cent of female managers said organizations should try to increase the number of women in senior management. Male senior executives were the least likely of all management groups to agree there is a need to increase the number of women in leadership roles.
The vast majority of female senior executives (90 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed organizations should try to increase the number of women in their senior ranks, compared to 42 per cent of men.
“Gender diversity in senior management is a strategic and cultural issue within organizations. Our research shows that barriers to women’s advancement exist throughout organizations, but the responsibility starts at the very top — with the board of directors and the existing senior management,” said Ian Cullwick, vice-president of leadership and human resources at the Conference Board.
“It will take more than neutrality on the part of senior male executives to bring about significant improvement in the advancement of women within organizations."
But the gap in opportunities between the sexes emerges early in their respective careers — at the first level of management, found the report Women in Leadership: Perceptions and Priorities for Change. Compared to men, women are less likely to feel they can obtain line-management responsibilities, creating an experience gap at the earliest stages of their management careers.
And while upper-level female managers indicated they have the same aspirations as their male counterparts to reach senior management, women in first-level management appeared less ambitious to reach senior levels of the organization than men.
“Paradoxically, we may need more female leaders before we can increase the number of women in senior management,” said Donna Burnett-Vachon, associate director of leadership and human resources at the Conference Board.
While leadership opportunities, motivations and abilities are three factors that are crucial to women’s advancement, the report found a fourth factor — attitudes. Eighty-six (86) per cent of women believe there is still a glass ceiling. While 68 per cent of women managers said organizations are still run by an old-boys’ club, only 43 per cent of men agreed.
When it comes to leadership development and HR management programs, both women and men felt they were not serving their intended purposes — identifying and developing the next generation of leadership candidates.
Most women and men ranked formal talent management programs at the bottom of the list in terms of having an impact on their careers. Further, mentors for women were more likely have a lower organizational rank than men, and women were more likely than men to look outside their organizations for mentors.
“To advance, women need not just mentors, but sponsors — senior leaders who can advocate for them and help to open up career opportunities, often in an informal way. However, women are less likely than men to have sponsors as they work their way up the ranks,” said Burnett-Vachon.
“Organizations should try to increase the numbers of women in senior ranks”
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