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Giving women the right support at every career stage

20 May, 2019

Gradually then suddenly: that’s how women recognise career obstacles relating to their gender. So says Rebecca Hourston, Managing Director at global gender diversity coaching specialists, Talking Talent and the guest speaker at our latest Illuminate dinner, which focused on developing women for leadership.

This is backed up by our own research. When we asked 5,000+ Bright Network members to identify the biggest barrier to pursuing any career path they wish, just 1% of women named gender. Only 2% named an absence of role models. At this early stage before entering the world of work, women are not disheartened.

But as women move further into their careers, we know that obstacles are gradually noticed more. Then they are suddenly noticed when a particular situation arises – becoming a parent or moving into a senior leadership role, for instance.

What can employers do to support women at every stage through their careers?

1. Don’t make the job ad a barrier

Our research shows that women are 37% more likely than men to give up on a job application because they lose confidence in their ability to get the role.

Employers can help by making sure the language used in the job advert itself – and throughout the application process – is gender-neutral. Studies have shown that small changes to wording can have a big impact on women feeling suitable for and confident about a role.

2. Support parents at work

Women often feel they must pause or slow down their career progression when they become a parent. Although this may not be on the radar for most graduates yet, it’s important they know what’s in place for them in the future.

In our 2019 research we asked our members and clients whether parental leave should be shared equally between both parents. All employer respondents and 95% of members said it definitely should be shared or should be up to each couple to choose. It’s a healthy sign that no employers at all thought it shouldn’t be shared. According to research by Talking Talent, 56% of new parents would have been very likely to share parental leave had the conditions and pay met their needs.

Schemes like ‘returnships’ to help both women and men get back into work after parental leave are just as important a consideration.

3. Equal doesn’t mean the same

Employers shouldn’t try to develop men and women in the same way as they are likely to need different kinds of support. Female-specific development initiatives are vital for developing a new generation of women leaders.

For instance, young women may need specific coaching to support them entering a typically male-dominated area like technology. Women could also benefit from tailored leadership development, so they feel ready to take leadership opportunities when they arise.

Our latest research looks at the concerns of tomorrow’s workforce, including the different needs of women compared to their male counterparts.