To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) yesterday, PwC surveyed more than 3,600 professional women (aged 28-40) about their career development experiences and aspirations. The survey included respondents from employers across 27 industry sectors and from more than 60 countries worldwide.
The report – Time to talk: what has to change for women at work – reveals that women are confident, ambitious and ready for what’s next, but many do not trust what their employers tell them about career development and promotion; or what helps or hurts their career.
Although CEOs recognize the importance of being transparent about their diversity and inclusion programs to build trust, the message is not universal and strong enough. Of the women surveyed, 45 percent believed an employee’s diversity status (gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference) could be a barrier to career progression in their organization, and only 51 percent agreed that employers were doing enough to progress gender diversity.
To improve career development opportunities, women identified greater transparency (58 percent) as the critical step employers could take. This means offering staff a clear understanding of the expectations on both sides of the employment equation, including information about career progression and success, and open conversations with employees on where they stand and what is expected of them to advance.
PwC Global Chairman Bob Moritz says, “Women are confident, ambitious and actively pursuing their career goals. Leaders should focus on creating an environment where women – and men – can have open conversations, and where there is clarity on what it takes to progress. This will benefit everyone and will lead to better results overall. This greater transparency is, however, just one piece of the puzzle, additional actions are needed to drive change. It must go hand in hand with efforts to mitigate any unconscious biases and gender stereotypes that have traditionally impacted career success and progression in workplaces around the world.”
The power of negotiation
Women, traditionally, are not self-promoters, although when they speak up, they get results. The survey shows that more women are recognizing the need for and power of advocating for themselves, with over half actively pursuing and negotiating for promotions, pay raises and the career enhancing experiences so critical for advancement.
Of the 41 percent of women who had been promoted in the past two years, 63 percent negotiated for a promotion. And of the 53 percent and 52 percent of women who had been given a high visibility project or stretch assignment in the past two years, 91 percent and 86 percent had negotiated for these opportunities. Self-advocacy pays off and a move to greater transparency, combined with workplace and personal support, will act to bolster this further.
Sharmila Karve, PwC global diversity leader, says, “It is really encouraging to see that more and more women are speaking up and proactively going after their career goals.
Organizations can do a lot to help women progress and reach leadership positions, for example by encouraging more open career conversations, mitigating the impact of any potential unconscious biases in decisions related to career progression, and explicitly setting uniform and transparent criteria by which employees are assessed. Providing advocacy and support programs such as mentoring and sponsorship helps, too.”
The motherhood and flexibility penalty
Almost all women said working in a job they enjoy (97 percent) and having flexibility to balance the demands of their career and personal/family life (95 percent) was important to them. Getting to the top of their career is important to 75 percent of women, while 82 percent are confident in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations.
But women feel nervous about the impact starting a family might have on their career (42 percent) and 48 percent of new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work. Meanwhile, 38 percent of all women in our survey feel that taking advantage of work life balance and flexibility programs has negative career consequences at their workplace. There is a clear concern over what women see as a motherhood and flexibility penalty.
The three things that need to change
The report puts forward three essential elements that leaders must focus on to help women advance their career:
1. Transparency and trust: women need to know where they stand so they can make their own case successfully and trust the feedback they get. Greater transparency won’t only benefit women; it will foster a more inclusive environment, which gives women and men greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.
2. Strategic support: women need the proactive networks of leaders and peers who will develop, promote and champion them as they pursue their career aspirations, both at home and in the workplace. Women need dedicated sponsors and role models of both genders – lack of support from male colleagues will stall progress. This blend of workplace and personal support will also work to underpin the self-advocacy women need to advance and succeed.
3. Life, family care and work: Women need employers to rethink their approach to helping talent balance work, life, parenthood and family care, to prevent potential biases, and to provide organizational solutions that work. There is a move to redesign maternity and paternity leaves and re-entry programs, but these efforts should be expanded and promoted, and best practices must be communicated more broadly. Flexibility alone is not the issue: many people don’t take leave or care furloughs precisely because they believe it will hurt their careers. Employers must recognize that everyone is making flexibility demands – it’s not a life-stage or gender-only issue – and help and encourage their people to take advantage of the programs in place.
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Catherine H. Santos is an Assurance partner, and Assurance Transformation partner, of Isla Lipana & Co., a member firm of the PwC network. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.