It was noted that mentoring is a key tool for men and women aspiring to senior leadership roles, however there is no evidence that being mentored was a pathway to leadership for women, but there was clearly a correlation between leadership advancement and mentoring for men.
Sponsors and Specific Intent seems to be key
The difference seems to be that with male executives who are being mentored, there seems to be the specific intent ) of achieving a promotion. The Catalyst study refers to this as Sponsorship.
Sponsors are defined by Catalyst as being advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance. Mentors on the other hand provide advice, feedback and coaching which can all be quite unstructured and lacking clear objectives.
It is this difference which makes mentoring a road block to promotion and a significant source of frustration for many up and coming female executives. As several female executives commented to me,
Perhaps this is harsh, but the sentiment is nevertheless very real, and the net result is that talented women simply stop seeking career progression with their current employer in favour of seizing opportunities with other companies or even competitors.
A Change of Intent
So what are the barriers that prevent or at least slow women down in securing senior leadership positions?
If there is the intent to promote talented women to senior positions, then this intent must be reflected in the career development programs offered.
Progressive companies are now providing Sponsorship programs and Mentoring programs as two distinctive streams.
Sponsorship programs have the specific intent of increasing the number of women being promoted. This means that a greater effort is placed on identifying to be sponsored and it requires the active and positive participation of the company’s senior executives.
Merit Doesn’t Go Away
A Sponsorship program is not a guarantee of a promotion, but it provides women with crucial access to career making help and seems to level off the playing field.
Merit will continue to play a significant role, but the principles of merit need to be challenged. The Australian federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency provides a couple of examples of challenging the principles of merit:
From a corporate perspective Sponsorship programs need to be viewed as a serious investment in developing and retaining the best talent.
Finding talent, nurturing talent and providing career advancement should be seen in the context of being ahead of your competition.
If women are not winning senior executive and leadership roles within their current company, then that company is putting itself at a major disadvantage. The realisation of which may come when it is too late to implement a solution.
10 Steps for Getting More Women into Leadership
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australia is making progress on many aspects of gender equality. However it notes that female representation in leadership continues to be a cause for concern.
Women remain underrepresented at every stage of the career pipeline in Australia, with poor representation at the C-suite and CEO levels.
In the 2017-18 Workplace Gender Equality Agency survey, only 17% of CEOs were women. Research shows that most CEO appointments come from line roles such as Chief Operating Officer and that approximately 30% of key management positions are held by women in Australia today.”
The Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency teamed up to undertake a study using three years of Workplace Gender Equality Agency data as well as interviews.
Women In Leadership: Lessons from Australian Companies Leading The Way’,
This report provides an evidence-based recipe for dismantling barriers to women’s participation at senior levels. Based on the observations of leading practice made for the report, 10 steps for getting more women into leadership was designed.
- Build a strong case for change
- Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
- Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
- Actively sponsor rising women
- Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
- Support talent through life transitions
- Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
- Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
- Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
- Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles
Each of these steps comes with detailed explanation and case studies.
You can download the full report here.