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Study reveals chasm between satisfaction and promotion for women

Gender diversity initiatives are being hampered by focusing too much on initiatives that make women feel more satisfied rather than driving actual promotions, research suggests.

A study of 3,000 female and male managers and professionals revealed the features of working life women say provides them with career satisfaction are vastly different from factors that drive career progression.

IBM company Kenexa identified the three most important factors leading to women’s actual career progression as critical job assignments, politically-skilled networking and risk-embracing seeking of opportunities.

Women reported engaging less than men in all areas apart from risk-embracing seeking of opportunities, where the proportions were similar.

However, when asked to describe what made them feel satisfied with their career progression, female respondees gave different responses.

They said having fair and objective HR processes in place to support promotion decisions made them feel fulfilled, as well as having a supportive line manager who believed in their potential. They also wanted a clear plan about how to advance their career and achieve their goals.

Kenexa senior psychologist at the High Performance Institute and report author Ines Wichert said the difference between satisfaction and actual promotion could “account to some extent for the slower progress in getting women to the top. After all, feeling satisfied with our career progression opportunities is no guarantee to securing the next promotion," she said.

“This could explain why many organisations struggle to see change as a result of their gender diversity initiatives – perhaps they are focusing on initiatives that make women feel more satisfied, but not on initiatives that drive actual promotions and therefore career progression for women.

“Employers need to take this on board when planning initiatives to support gender diversity, to make sure that women not only stay in the company but also move up the career ladder.”

Campaign group Opportunity Now director Kathryn Nawrockyi responded to the findings, saying her organisation’s observations of top performing companies on female progression suggested companies with more women in leadership roles were twice as likely to have gender-focussed objectives in their diversity strategies.

“There are also more women at middle and senior levels in organisations with a clear, transparent single reward structure for all employees, and a positive correlation between a high number of female managers and uptake of flexible working,” she said.

“We would encourage employers to consider implementing these strategies as an effective first step to increasing female representation within their organisation.”

She also encouraged employers to develop workplace cultures with “inclusive leadership”.

“Our research shows inclusive leaders have a positive impact on employee performance and engagement, and are able to help build a diverse talent pipeline by recognising their team members’ skills,” she said.

“But at the moment there are too few inclusive leaders, and they are often there by accident not design.”

Kenexa’s report also revealed employees think the “golden age” for career progression is between the ages of 28 and 34, after which respondees said the number of promotions and job satisfaction levels steadily decreased.