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Women in the Workplace: What’s Draining Women’s Ambition?

According to Betsy Myers, Founding Director, at the Center for Women in Business, Bentley University, over the last decade there has been an undeniable shift in the workforce. It has continuously evolved from generation to generation, but now more than ever there are substantial differences. The workforce has dramatically changed and only those organizations that not only understand this, but also embrace it, will remain competitive in the future. What got you here may not get you there.

One of the most noticeable shifts relates to the role women play in the workforce. It has been a slow climb for women to reach the same levels of the corporate ladder as their male counterparts. Women currently account for 50 percent of the workforce and 50 percent of mid-management roles in corporate America according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Statistics.

However, while there have been notable increases within corporate America, many places still lack significant female representation: the boardroom and the C-suite. Only four percent of the Fortune 500 currently has female CEOs and, on average, a mere 15 percent of boards and C-suite jobs are occupied by women.
While the strides made by women have brought progress and increased opportunities, little has actually changed over the past 20 years in the numbers of women in the most senior jobs. The good news is that there is a noticeable shift in thinking across corporate America. For many years, companies that supported women in the workforce saw it as a “nice thing to do.” What’s most exciting now is that many companies today are singing a different tune. The conversation shifted from “nice thing to do” to “it’s actually a smart thing to do.” There is a business case that impacts the bottom line and companies can no longer afford to lose valuable talent in the women they have invested in to see them leave.

Studies also show that companies with this belief and that place women in higher-ranking leadership positions are more profitable on average by 14 percent according to McKinsey & Company October 2012 research. People are starting to see a true and quantifiable business imperative as a direct correlation to the women who help lead their companies. Organizations that embrace diverse thinking by not only employing women in higher roles, but also minorities, millennials and other groups, are actually able to solve problems differently. They are more agile and nimble
in how they face and rectify issues.

Diversify Your People Portfolio

Picture this: You have five people sitting around a table charged with examining an issue affecting their company and coming up with a solution. All five people are the same gender, roughly the same age, same race, same education level and basically grew up with very similar life experiences.

How diverse are their opinions truly going to be?

Now, when you sprinkle some diversity – some women – into that seating chart, that’s when you start to get some unique perspective. Adding people of different genders, races, and backgrounds will result in seeing the problem at hand in a new and different way and coming up with new and different solutions.

Think about why people invest in mutual funds. They do it because they want a diverse portfolio rather than a single fund manager making every decision. Without varying perspectives, you risk missing out on new opportunities and room for growth and evolution.

The reality is that corporate America is very much an old model that will continue to lose valuable groups like women and millennials unless companies embrace a modern workforce, one that brings not only diversity but also diversity of thought and a willingness to help their employees live a more integrated life.

Working women faced these old model stigmas for many years, which essentially hampered their professional growth and left them feeling undervalued and unsupported.

They had to deal with challenges and questions about their priorities. The idea of work-life balance has generated buzz and debate over the last couple of decades and it frequently seemed to gravitate back to raising children while maintaining your professional presence. But it’s so much bigger than that. To think that all women have to juggle is their job and perhaps their children is an archaic mindset. There are a whole gamut of aspects that affect their work-life balance – health issues, aging parents, divorce, and other extenuating circumstances. In the modern workforce, these issues no longer just impact women in the workplace, they have become just as important for men as well as a key factor for engaging the millennial generation.

So how does a company in today’s corporate landscape perpetuate an environment and culture that embraces women and other groups that can be instrumental to their success?

It must start from the top. The CEO needs to walk the talk and facilitate real, tangible change. Do you want your people energized and committed? Then show them that you care and will do what it takes to value them as individuals, helping them to successfully integrate their professional responsibilities into their lives in a real and positive way.

The CEOs who drive these kinds of changes are smart — they know it doesn’t just affect the women they are hiring, but everyone, including them. A male CEO could have a working spouse, or a working daughter. He knows that the only way he is going to spend more time with his family is to encourage a culture that accommodates the needs of all employees, not just the overwhelming majority.

Today’s workforce is younger, savvier, and more demanding. They know what they want and are willing to ask for it. They want to work in places where they feel valued, included,and appreciated, in places that are purpose and people driven. In the modern workforce this is the difference between productivity and disengagement. If this is not possible in their current positions and companies, employees will leave.

You can’t put a price tag on quality of life, but you can advocate for changes within your own organization to inspire the change to support it. This is not just a nice thing to do; it is the key to staying competitive and profitable.

Betsy Myers is a leadership expert and author of “Take the Lead, Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.” She served as chief operating officer and senior advisor to Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, and in the Clinton administration, she was the first director of the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach. Currently serving as the founding director of Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, she lives with her family near Boston. Visit her online at BetsyMyers.com.

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