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‘Critical job assignments’ and networking most important for female career progression, Kenexa research finds

‘Critical job assignments’ and networking are more important than ‘objective HR processes’ when it comes to women’s career progression, according to research from Kenexa High Performance Institute.

The research of 1,000 employees in global businesses was presented at the Women's Business Forum in London yesterday.

It found 25% of the reason for women's promotion was 'critical job assignments', such as people management responsibilities or managing large projects at early stages in their careers. This is the biggest reason for promotion among women, followed by networking with senior decision makers (15%) and actively seeking opportunities (12%).

This contrasted with what women themselves saw as key to being satisfied in their career progression. When it comes to being satisfied, women cited objective HR processes (25%) as the most important thing, followed by supportive supervision (16%) and career planning (13%).

In terms of actual promotion, HR processes account for only 7% of promotions for women, and career planning and supportive supervision account for only 4% each. HR processes were far more important for men, accounting for 15%, which could suggest processes are often weighted in favour of male employees.

Ines Wichert, a senior psychologist at Kenexa who carried out and presented the research, told HR magazine there was a gap between the "feel-good stuff" and "what actually works" in getting women to the top.

"I'm concerned that when we are talking about these things, we are only talking about the softer elements," she said. "Women are still somewhat of an unknown quantity at the top, and they need to have these critical job assignments on their CVs to tick the boxes."

Mentoring and sponsorship also came out as important factors in leading to promotion later (12%), yet the research found 83% of respondents don't have mentors. "Mentoring is important, but it needs to cover the importance of networking and taking some risks in seeking opportunities," said Wichert.

The research found three things have a negative impact on women being promoted: self-promotion, supportive work-life culture and work-life balance.

"The piece we haven't cracked yet is when women come back to work after maternity leave, often on a flexible schedule, how to make sure we keep on progressing them," said Wichert.

The Women's Business Forum took place in London yesterday with more than 600 delegates from 150 global companies. The theme was ‘Better Balance, Better Business’.

Speaking to delegates, Women's Business Forum founder Heather Jackson said that creating gender-balanced business wasn’t “a mission impossible”. “If we work together and collaboratively, we can shatter all real and perceived barriers and make a tangible difference to building not only better balanced businesses, but a better balanced society,” she said.