Unequal access to ‘hot jobs’ obstructing women’s careers: Catalyst report

Men have more C-suite visibility, mission-critical roles, international assignments
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/28/2013

As marketing manager at Enseco Energy Services, Sheryl Winczura has access to many high-visibility projects. She’s constantly working on projects that are public-facing, put her “in the spotlight a little more” and have high C-suite visibility, she said.

“The advantage of working for a smaller oil and gas services-providing company is that we wear a lot of different hats,” said Winczura, whose Calgary-based company has 350 employees.

“I’m so fortunate that I have access to senior management meetings and that I have a lot of support.”

High-visibility projects are one of the key “hot jobs” women need access to in order to further advance in their careers, according to a report by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that promotes opportunities for women and business. Mission-critical roles and international assignments round out the three types of hot jobs.

“These are the key jobs that are so critical to getting high potentials ahead further and faster — to actually advancing high potentials, men and women alike… but we found women get fewer of these hot jobs than men do,” said Anna Beninger, senior associate of research at Catalyst in New York and co-author of the report.

“It’s not just about working on projects but it’s about working on the right projects.”

Gender differences evident

According to the Catalyst report, men reported leading projects:

with bigger budgets (more than twice the size of women’s)

• larger teams (more than three times as many staff)

• that posed a higher risk to the company (30 per cent of men versus 22 per cent of women)

• with more C-suite visibility (35 per cent of men versus 26 per cent of women).

“The right people see you in action and they see you taking on an important, tricky project or file that is material to the business, that is meaningful to them,” said Alex Johnston, executive director of Catalyst Canada in Toronto. “If you navigate that well, the rewards that come from that can be significant.”

In terms of mission-critical roles, men reported more critical responsibility for profit and loss (56 per cent of men versus 46 per cent of women) and budgets in excess of $10 million (30 per cent of men versus 22 per cent of women), found the report, which was based on responses from 1,600 professionals in Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada.

“Mission-critical roles are about your overall responsibility on the job, not just an isolated project,” said Beninger. “Men were significantly more likely than women to have profit-loss responsibility — in other words, be invested and be responsible for the bottom line in that they’re being held accountable.”

Another component of mission-critical roles is the management of direct reports (77 per cent of men versus 70 per cent of women).

“When you’re managing direct reports, you’re quite often working directly with executive teams and high-profile individuals, you’re constantly learning and growing and developing. And then it’s reciprocal — you’re also bringing all those similar things back to the company,” said Winczura.

Relocations also a factor

International assignments make up the third element of hot jobs and women receive fewer of these opportunities than men — but not because they are unwilling to relocate, found the report.

Among those who are willing to relocate, more men than women received international assignments (35 per cent versus 26 per cent) and more women than men were never offered the opportunity (64 per cent versus 55 per cent).

Along with her position at Enseco, Winczura is executive director of the Calgary branch of the Women in Leadership Foundation. She works directly with many women who work internationally and agreed a willingness to relocate is not an issue — and she is “always seeking those opportunities” for herself as well, she said.

“The high level of ambiguity that comes with international experience requires adaptability, courage and knowledge and it demonstrates you have the transferable skills necessary to learn quickly and contribute to the organization,” said Winczura.

“Those transferable skills are necessary to continuously grow throughout your career.”

To make sure women have equal access to hot jobs, employers need to identify what projects matter the most to their company and put metrics in place to track who has access to these, said Beninger. Then, they need to hold someone accountable.

“If the process of how hot jobs are allocated is made transparent, and it’s someone’s actual job to ensure women and diverse high potentials are just as likely as white men to get these opportunities, that really will help to close the gap,” she said.

Desjardins Financial is further developing its strategy around ensuring high-potential women have equal access to hot jobs, said Sylvie Renaud, director of strategic talent planning at the company headquarters in Montreal.

Currently, as part of the company’s succession plan, high-level management women are identified and the company meets with each individual to support them in their development.

“When the time arrives where we have structure adjustments or a special project and we need to identify the right people, then we do know the people because we met with them, we know their strengths, we know what they’ve worked on, and now we can match the appropriate candidates with those interesting, high-level mandates,” said Renaud.

But Desjardins is aiming to identify more high-potential women throughout the organization, not just those in higher-up positions.

“Women need to be visible and they need to be in the club, and they need to integrate this circle early in their career, so that’s why we need to address this,” said Renaud.

A professional development program is also being built as part of the company’s internal university that will help put these individuals on the management track, said Renaud. Along with formal training, it will include on-the-job assignments.

HR plays a key role in making sure women have equal access to hot jobs, said Winczura.

“This encompasses the regulation of internal recruitment, ensuring all employees, despite their gender, are granted equal rights to those opportunities and monitoring this on an ongoing basis,” she said. “If they’re observing candidates are missing out on those opportunities, HR needs to get involved.”

It’s in the best interest of employers to ensure women have access to hot jobs because it will help retain high-potential women and move them forward in the company — which is important for an organization’s success, said Beninger.

“Organizations with women at the top attain better financial results, on average, than other companies, so organizations should really sit up and pay attention to these findings and take action,” she said. “It really is critical to an organization’s bottom line.”

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