The issue of women holding a place at the higher echelons of the organisation has dominated the headlines in recent months, and rightly so. But while the call for greater gender parity is getting louder and louder, there is some confusion as to why the number of women occupying the top jobs is disappointingly low in the first place. The answer is not as clear as the media would have us believe.
Myth versus reality
Common perception has it that women are prevented from climbing to the top of the career ladder because of their decision to have children. This may be the case in some organisations, but only in a minority of them. The sad truth is that in the main women are not being held back. Rather, it is they themselves who consciously put a cap on their career – a fact supported by recent research.
Indeed, a PwC report found that 82% of women said they felt confident in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations, and a further 77% were confident in their ability to lead. Yet almost half believe that a lack of diversity within their organization could hold them back from moving forwards in their careers – especially if they were to have children.
This, the report suggested, plays a factor in the decision not to apply for more senior roles. Of course, this isn’t to say male leaders are anti-women or actively working to prevent working mothers from moving into senior management. It’s just that, for too long, getting women into leadership roles has been treated as a ‘feminist’ issue; it’s been left to female employees to break through the glass ceiling with bare fists alone. And so, naturally, lack of input from the top has only aided in reinforcing the barrier for women who want both a rich career and a family.
Progress is being made, but the pace of change needs to quicken
In 2011, the first Lord Davies Review pushed the gender agenda to the top of the boardroom table. It outlined the government’s aim of having 25% of all director-level positions held by women by 2015. Today, that figure stands at a little above that (25.5%) against a target of 33%. The gap is being breached, but the speed at which it is closing is frustratingly slow. the question is why?
A major part of the problem is a lack of understanding among business leaders positive impact that diverse boardrooms have on the bottom line of the organisation. Yet, it doesn’t take a lot of searching to find evidence that mothers make great leaders.
Not only have a number of studies in the last decade proved both the financial and commercial benefits of a diverse board, they have shattered the belief that pregnant women and working mothers cannot commit to both their family and career at once.
Motherhood as a boost to career prospects
Take the likes of “It’s Good To Be A Girl” author, Helena Morrissey. If the argument outlined above were true, Helena Morrissey would not be the Chief Executive at Newton Fund Management due to the nine – yes, nine – children she raised.
But at the age of 48, Mrs Morrissey is responsible for the over £50bn worth of funds her firm manages. Naturally, impeccable time management is essential in this delicate balancing act, along with what she calls “ruthless prioritisation.”
Helena Morrissey cites her seniority at work for making her big family possible and she is not an isolated case.
Joining Google in 1999, Susan Wojcicki was the first employee to go on maternity leave. Fast forward to 2015 and Wojcicki is the CEO at YouTube and has a total of five children. A vocal advocate for generous family benefits, Wojcicki blazed a trail by pushing the boundaries; she was the catalyst that saw Google’s reputation evolve into the family friendly corporation it is known as today.
According to Wojcicki, having children strengthened her corporate performance. She sad: “Being a mother also gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”
Of course, balancing family life and a thriving career in a senior management role is by no means easy. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and as studies have repeatedly shown, there is certainly a will.