A shocking waste of talent

More on the subject of women in senior management.    The UK’s Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) says that, according to its research published last week, there is a strong link between low confidence levels in women and their lack of career ambition compared to men.    The Institute’s survey found that the career ambitions of women lagged behind their male colleagues and that over half of the women managers interviewed reported feelings of self doubt at work, compared with just 30% of men.  Let’s consider this against the ongoing debate about female representation on Boards (and calls for quotas to address this) and another recent report by the London School of Economics (LSE).  The LSE research identified a strong trend towards entrepreneurialism amongst women , reporting that 70% of women aged between 16 and 24 have ambitions to set up their own business.

These findings reflect my own experience both as someone who built a career in management to become  a Chief Executive, and as a specialist in the global MBA market.   Confidence amongst women at work is an issue.    Women MBA graduates who are asked how they benefited from the qualification will invariably say that the experience gave them greater confidence in their abilities and more self esteem.    I am also struck by the number of women who attribute their career success to the support they received from a great boss or someone in their past who gave them confidence and pushed them to go further.   At the same time, annual surveys into the career choices of MBA graduates show an interesting increase in the number of women MBAs who are choosing self employment as a career.   It might be possible to conclude from all this that women, lacking the confidence to compete with men in the corporate world, are opting out by establishing their own businesses and succeeding on their own terms.   This is an over simplification – running your own business is not an easy option:  it involves high risk, requires confidence, an appetite for success and a competitive nature.    But given the consistently low numbers of female senior managers employed by companies and the under representation of females on Boards, it is not hard to understand why self employment is an attractive career path for many women.

This situation presents a serious problem for companies who are struggling to find talented people to fill top positions.   We know that, with the retirement of baby boomers and a declining birth rate, the talent pool is shrinking.  If female employees with potential to progress are not encouraged in their careers, or if women are simply leaving to go it alone, companies are losing an internal resource of skills, knowledge and expertise.    A proactive talent management strategy which seeks to spot potential, nurture and encourage staff with promise, and which removes obstacles that might be preventing the advancement of women employees would go a long way to addressing these issues.    It makes good business sense.   Recruiting new staff from outside is costly, time consuming and risky.   Investing in identifying and growing your own talent is likely to be a far more effective and efficient option.

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