According to the Pew Research Center Americans widely believe that men have a better shot at leadership positions in business and politics, even as majorities say that men and women make equally good leaders. There is little consensus, however, on why women remain underrepresented in these fields.
LinkedIn recently summarized findings from data that measured gender diversity across several industries. They found:
- A leadership gap showing a difference in females represented in membership overall and members in leadership positions
- This gap is most pronounced in healthcare, retail and financial services
- In accounting firms, women represent nearly half of the total employee base, but only 26% of leadership
- Companies that operate in e-learning and information services industries have the most gender equal workforces
- Insurance, commercial real estate and venture capital all have leadership gaps of 16% or higher
And current trends are not helping close this gap. A Forbes report revealed that the most popular majors for women include History, English language and literature, Nursing, Accounting, Psychology and Business Administration and Management (which is number one). In contrast, Kiplinger’s list of most in-demand degrees center more on STEM fields and include Finance, Civil Engineering, Economics, Information Technology, Software Engineering, Management Info Systems and Computer Science.
Creating interest and opportunities for women around STEM-related fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board. But it requires more effort by individuals and by companies. According to WhiteHouse.gov, supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves. Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation.
Women who want to move up the ladder at an accelerated pace should consider coursework in skills that will make them more sought-after in the marketplace and position them for advancement. This may include advanced computer skills, finance or project management. And companies must do more to identify, encourage and support women who have in-demand skill-sets. Stretch opportunities, mentoring and sponsorship are just a few of the ways organizations can encourage the next generation of women leaders.
Another role that appears less common – but is, frankly, more beneficial – is that of a coach. A coach’s conversations are more directive because their job is to help their client achieve his or her specific workplace objectives or goals. In other words, a good coach understands what you need to do to get ahead and helps you do just that. While coaches are often assigned only to executives by a company, the Wall Street Journal published a compelling article on the process and benefits of finding your own career coach. An experienced and objective coach may be the best career investment, providing sound advice on what courses to take, which skills to polish and what organizations are the best suited to quickly advance your career.
Michael Norris is COO and Market President for Sodexo Corporate Services and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Mr. Norris is committed to developing the next generation of STEM leaders – both women and men – and helping to prepare all young leaders entering the workforce to be successful.