Banishing the Glass Ceiling
While women have infiltrated management positions more and more over the past 20 years, they make up only a small number of top-level positions. Unfortunately, many companies are unconcerned with this issue and risk losing valuable opportunities.
In “HRD Initiatives Contributing to Women’s Career Progress” (Performance Improvement, 38:9, 1999), Kimberly McDonald and Linda Hite argue that women and men receive different developmental experiences during their careers. On average, women tend to hold positions and take on assignments that are less visible, involve less risk, and have a lower level of responsibility. The dilemma is that if women aren’t given the same challenges as men, they may find themselves less qualified for the next job level.
Training opportunities may also influence a woman’s career advancement. Since men customarily have a larger scope of work experience, they are often provided more training or more in-depth training than women. Having dependents at home also reduces a woman’s work experience while increasing men’s.
Developing mentor relationships is another important activity for those who want to further their careers. Female mentors are much more rare than male mentors.
Another developmental activity that furthers career growth is overseas experience. Women are often overlooked for these assignments for a variety of reasons: women may not pursue them because they feel they have less chance to get them; traditionally, middle or top-level managers get these assignments; it is assumed that women will not be treated kindly in other cultures.
There are four initiatives to maximize the potential of women’s career progress: training, career development, mentoring, and succession planning.
Training rosters can be examined to determine if women are underrepresented in certain types of training programs and redesigned to offer training at times and locations that are convenient to many.
Career development merges personal interests with company goals to fulfill the needs of both. Since preparation for top-level positions necessitates proper experience, human resource departments can encourage women to seek out visible and upward growth early in their careers.
A formal mentoring program should be incorporated, and women should be provided access to influential mentors. Companies are beginning to incorporate programs such as this to balance out the equation.
Succession planning provides women with another opportunity for career development. This process identifies potential candidates for advancement over the long term and begins to groom those individuals early in their careers.