Employers Lack Strategy for Developing Women Leaders

October 25, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Despite organizations’ efforts to achieve a diverse workforce, the majority – 70% – do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles, according to a new survey.

The Women’s Leadership Development Survey conducted by Mercer in conjunction with Talent Management and Diversity Management magazines found more than two-fifths (43%) of the employers surveyed indicate that their organization does not offer any activities or programs targeted to the needs of women leaders. While 23% of organizations said they offer some activities or programs, another 19% said their approach to the development of women leaders is to track and monitor progress only. Just 5% said they currently provide a robust program and 4% say they plan to add programs and activities in the future, according to a Mercer news release.  

When asked how well the organizational climate supports the development of women, 43% of respondents said to a moderate extent, while 27% said to a great extent, 21% said to a small extent and 7% said it is not supported at all.  

The top programs listed by employers that specifically target the needs of women leaders are flexible work arrangements, diversity sourcing/recruiting, coaching and mentoring. These same four programs were also identified by respondents as most effective in developing women leaders.  

Additionally, the organizations surveyed were asked about their current level of concern regarding various aspects of women in leadership and three aspects garnered a response of “very concerned” from one-fifth or more of the respondents: having women develop the full range of skills necessary for a senior leadership position (21%), retaining women once they reach leadership levels (21%), and having enough women in the leadership pipeline (20%). While their organizations may not have expressed significant concern around women’s leadership development, many respondents indicated their own desire to improve the effectiveness of their programs through actions such as developing formal mentoring/coaching programs for women leaders, identifying high-potential leaders early in their careers, and promoting greater awareness of women’s leadership development at the board and executive level.  

The top three factors respondents said prevent women in their organizations’ leadership talent pools from advancing to the next level are lack of an executive sponsor (43%), insufficient breadth of experience  (36%), and work-life balance (31%). Respondents said the biggest challenges women face regarding their development as leaders within the organization pertain to lack of role models, lack of opportunities for career advancement and lack of support from upper management.   

The survey, conducted in September, includes responses from human resource, talent management and diversity leaders at more than 540 organizations throughout the US. According to the news release, the survey included a broad cross-section of industries, with health care, for-profit services, government/public sector, financial/banking and high-tech/telecommunications organizations representing the largest segments.