“We Are Losing Talent”

For women, still a difficult path to the top

29/11/2013 Barcelona

Mireia Las Heras

"One undeniable fact is that today, more than 50% of the world’s graduates are women. In fact, at the top of the social ladder, there are a disproportionate number of women with degrees compared to men. However, in countries like Spain, 75% of companies have boards that are 90% male. Companies do hire diverse talent, however they don’t invest equal resources in everyone’s development."

These are the figures and statistics that Professor Mireia Las Heras, Academic Director of the International Center for Work and Family (ICWF), brings to light in her recent study exploring the contrasting professional development of men and women and the challenges that both genders face in making their way to the top.

"Our data is based on the surveys we conducted in companies of all sectors and the results are applicable to almost any country, though perhaps less so in the U.S. and Europe," she confirmed. "We found that the two factors that explain the limited diversity of talent at the board level are the glass ceiling and the so called ‘cement ceiling.’ The first refers to the practice of evaluating the CVs of two equally accomplished job candidates differently, depending on their gender and their family responsibilities. As women move up the ladder to assume jobs with greater responsibility, they simultaneously find themselves at the life stage where they would like to start a family."

She went on explaining, "Meanwhile, the second phenomenon is the self-imposed barrier that women run into when their company does not offer flexibility to balance work and family. In this case, professional women opt out of pursuing positions of greater responsibility, knowing that family and work will be impossible to balance. The worst part of the situation is that there is still a deeply rooted attitude that sees professionals who opt out of moving up as lacking ambition. Down the road the result is that they are overlooked and therefore denied the chance to seek out new opportunities for promotion. In reality, their choice is not a lack of ambition, but simply an ambition of a different sort."

Betting on flexibility

According to Prof. Las Heras, the most fundamental solution is flexibility. "It has been demonstrated that a senior management position can be flexible and also be carried out successfully on a part-time basis. However, most companies believe that the level of challenge in such positions requires 100% dedication to the job."

She continued indicating that there are no magic solutions. Instead, she explained, "There is the belief that you have to begin adapting companies through education and by example. We should bet on dynamic flexibility that is fair for both men and women, adapted to each particular situation, that generates a positive impact on both employees and the company. Companies demand flexibility from their employees, so it’s time that they demanded the same of themselves."

She also warned that if companies cannot make necessary adjustments, they stand to lose talent for their own ends, something that would simultaneously be a great disservice to society. "If we distance women from top management positions, we are wasting the deep insight that they possess as the major player when it comes to spending decisions and managing purchasing power in general. If companies want to reach out to all consumers, they need to have women on board who understand them. If the true potential of organizations lies in people, it should be equally shared amongst all of them."