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The Uphill Challenge of a Corporate Career

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

Once through the office door the issue often arises of how to help women remain in the workforce. Results from UK Gender Pay Gap (GPG) analysis highlight that gender diversity really nose dives into into the third and fourth pay quartiles. Consequently for many women remaining in the corporate world can feel a bit like driving uphill on an old banger while everyone else seems to have a Porsche.

Almost half of the gender pay gap in large corporate organisations can be explained by the fact there are less senior women. Some of the blame for this can definitely be put on the door of society with the perpetuation of gender stereotyping with regards household and caring responsibilities. At the same time companies could be doing more to retain and promote women, creating a pipeline of real models that women can aspire to. The existence of these real models will also allow women to instigating conversations at home around career aspirations and work-life balance which will hopefully help both partners sustain a corporate career while balancing any home life responsibilities.

Real Models across all levels of the organisation

Having real models across all levels of an organisation provides women with realistic role models on how to find a sustainable work life juggle while progressing their career. The difference between a role model and real model was neatly explained to me by my highly dyslexic son. When people find out he is dyslexic they straight away mention the B word -- Branson. This happens so often we have banned the B word in our house. My son does not consider Branson a real model because apart from both having dyslexia they have nothing else in common. Much like me and Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand, for my sailing mad son, Sir Ben Ainsley is the equivalent of a god and someone who he aims to match in terms of GB golds. While many organisations and affinity groups focus on providing senior role models interactions for their female staff very few provide genuine real models to the majority of women in the organisation. For example senior women tend to fit into three categories; no children, children but a stay at home partner, or children but a full time nanny. For many women in the workplace these three categories don't match their own lifestyles in any way. While these women may be inspirational they are very often not real models.

Lack of Trigger Support

All colleagues need support but even more so when they are going through a life changing event. This can include before or after going on parental leave, starting to manage a team, a move to increased flexibility or commencing staggered retirement. At these trigger points well managed support can make all the difference in retaining colleagues. Support can take several forms including;

  1. Improved pre, during and post Parental Leave Support including improved parental leave policies and guidance, support workshops for those on leave and establishment of a buddy network.

  2. Pro-active allocation of mentors with similar experiences. e.g. return from maternity, ready for promotion, moving to staggered retirement.

  3. Activating sponsorship opportunities for high performing staff. This was particularly recognized by Sky in 2017 who noted that women do not naturally created sponsorship opportunities and sought to create a program to artificially build that relationship for women, in the hope it would then lead to role modelling in the future for this to then naturally occur. Each executive area nominated high potential women for a 12-month program. The program included speed networking focused on non-work related interactions between senior staff and sponsees. This was followed up by 121 meetings and a roundtable for sponsees and sponsors to understand the challenges and benefits. The final impact of this program has not been announced but is expected to be highly positive.

Equal access to Flexible Working for Fathers and Co-Carers

Even with the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) the reality is that most men go back to work full time after the birth of their children. This can then often led to the other partners having to make the difficult choice to either become a stay at home parent or to work part-time to allow the family dynamic to work. Even where fathers and co-carers are working flexibly this is often being done under the covers, usually as permanent informal flexibility that is specific to that manager-colleague relationship, to which neither party wants any attention drawn. Companies and colleagues need to get more comfortable with the idea of all colleagues working flexibly - this does not mean all types of flexibility should be available in all roles but rather that all jobs can be done with some sort of flexibility. By using that as a starting point companies and colleagues are able to do a mind flip - if someone is not accessing flexibility they become abnormal and need to explain themselves, rather than the other way around. This will allow fathers and co-carers to be more active participants in child rearing and both parents will be able to progress their careers.

If you enjoyed this post please check out my other blog posts here, including the difference between real and role models and my critique of the shared caring revolution.

All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


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