Women are confident, ambitious and ready for what is next, but many do not trust what their employers are telling them about career development and promotion; or what helps or hurts their career.
These are among the finding from a PwC surnvey of 3 600 professional women that aims to discover their career development experiences and aspirations.
The survey included respondents from employers across 27 industry sectors and from over 60 countries worldwide. These women are at the point in their working lives where the gap between men’s and women’s progression begins to widen significantly and the challenges of combining careers and personal priorities increase.
The collective voice of women, speaking up about their experiences in the workplace, has never been stronger. There is a new fearlessness and urgency to address the challenges women face, including, but not limited to, the possibility of discrimination, and the slow progress in bridging the gender gap.
Although CEOs recognised the importance of being transparent about their diversity and inclusion programmes to build trust, the message is not universal and strong enough. 45% of women (South Africa 53%) believe an employee’s diversity status (gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference) can be a barrier to career progression in their organisation, and only 51% of women (South Africa 53%) agree that employers are doing enough to progress gender diversity.
To improve career development opportunities, women identified greater transparency as the critical step employers can 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 in advance.
Dion Shango, CEO of PwC Southern Africa, says: “The quality of women’s talent and leadership is vitally important to business; the skills and experience they bring, including experience gained outside of the workplace, has proven to be essential in strategic decision-making and in ethical sustainable enterprise.
“Business leaders need to focus on creating a more transparent working environment where women – and men – can have open conversations on performance and progression benchmarks. Greater transparency won’t benefit only women; it will foster more inclusive environments, which give everyone greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.”
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2017 Global Gender Gap report, which measures the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap, women lag men by 58% overall and are further behind in developing countries. This is a systemic issue that cannot be attributed to individual circumstances; it is endemic to organisational structures, cultures and practices.
Women, traditionally, are not self-promoters although when they speak up they get results. The survey shows that more women are recognising 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% of women who had been promoted in the past two years, 63% negotiated for a promotion. In South Africa, 53% of women stated they had received an increase in pay over the past two years. In addition, of the 53% and 52% of women who had been given a high visibility project or stretch assignment in the past two years, 91% and 86% had negotiated for these opportunities. Self-advocacy pays off, a move to greater transparency combined with workplace, and personal support will act to bolster this further.
Nana Madikane, PwC Southern Africa diversity and inclusion leader, adds: “It is positive to note that more and more women are opening up discussions with their employers and proactively pursuing and negotiating for raises, promotions and the career-enhancing experiences so critical to advancement. However, we want women to self-advocate more. Nevertheless, inclusiveness must also be ingrained within the capabilities of people managers, so they are more instinctively attuned to identify the best talent for an opportunity. The onus is on organisations, not just women, to take responsibility for taking down the barriers to progress.”
Almost all women said working in a job they enjoy (Global 97%; South Africa 98%) and having flexibility to balance the demands of their career and personal/family life (Global 95%; South Africa 99%) was important to them. Getting to the top of their career is important to 75% of women globally versus 86% in South Africa, while 82% are confident in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations. In South Africa 63% of women stated they aspired to be a leader/top level executive.
However, women feel nervous about the impact starting a family might have on their career (Global 42%; South Africa 41%) and 48% of new mothers (South Africa 46%) felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work. Meanwhile 38% of women globally (South Africa 29%) feel that taking advantage of work life balance and flexibility programmes has negative career consequences at their workplace. There is a clear concern over what women see as a motherhood and flexibility penalty.
The report puts forward three essential elements that leaders can focus on to help women advance their career:
* 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 will not only benefit women, it will foster a more inclusive environment, which gives women and men greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.
* 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.
* 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 organisational solutions that work. There is a move to redesign maternity and paternity leaves and re-entry programmes, but these efforts should be expanded and promoted, and best practices must be communicated more broadly. Flexibility alone is not the issue: many people do not take leave or care furloughs because they believe it will hurt their careers. Employers must recognise that everyone is making flexibility demands – it is not a life-stage or gender-only issue – and help and encourage their people to take advantage of the programmes in place.