Majority of employers lack strategy to develop female leaders: Mercer

Additional flexibility, coaching needed to boost ranks at Canadian organizations

The majority of Canadian employers (82 per cent) do not have a clear strategy or philosophy for the develop­ment of women into leadership roles, according to the Women’s Leadership Development Survey conducted by Mercer.

The survey, conducted in December 2010, includes responses from 290 human resources, talent management and diversity leaders at organizations across Canada. The survey included a broad cross-section of industries, with health care, for-profit services, public sector, financial and technology organizations representing the largest segments. Asia Pacific, United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa were also surveyed.

When it comes to strategy for developing women leaders, Canada trails both the U.S. and the world. American and international results show that 70 and 71 per cent, respectively, lack a strategy, compared to 82 per cent in Canada, the survey found.

More than half (53 per cent) of Canadian women believe their organization provides “no” or “minimal” support for their leadership development, according to the survey.

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of Canadian organizations do not currently offer any programs or activities targeted to the development needs of women leaders and only two per cent plan to institute such programs in the future. In comparison, over half (57 per cent) of American organizations and 53 per cent of global employers already offer these types of programs.

“Frankly, we were surprised by the results, given the fact that the Canadian culture is one that values diversity in society, workforce and leadership,” said Lynn Stoudt, talent management expert in Mercer’s human capital consulting business. “We know that women are often included in diversity programs but we’re suggesting that these programs are not specific enough given that women make up half of the Canadian workforce.”

When asked about the types of existing programs specifically tar­geted to the needs of women leaders, the top programs listed by employers in both Canada and the U.S. were flexible work arrangements, diversity sourcing and recruiting, mentoring and coaching. These same four programs were identified by respondents as most effective in developing women leaders.

In the U.S. and Asia Pacific region, organizations showed a higher than average response of 69 per cent for providing flexible work arrangements, while Canadian organizations showed a lower response (60 per cent). Additionally, more U.S. and Asia Pacific organizations provide coaching (51 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively) compared to 42 per cent of organizations in Africa and just 37 per cent in Canada.

“When it comes to offering programs to help women advance as leaders, the solutions being provided by organizations don’t always address the issue,” said Colleen O’Neill, senior partner in Mercer’s human capital consulting business. “Leadership development is a multiphase process that goes beyond flexible work schedules and basic coaching – it must include opportunities to obtain leadership experience, and more importantly, support from senior management.”

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