Blogs / 06 Jan 2023 3 min

Women are not getting adequate development, career support and sponsorship

When it comes to development feedback, numerous studies have shown that women receive more vague, personal and unhelpful feedback than men. This prevents them from getting clear information about their performance that would push them to learn, grow and improve.

We found 27% of women don’t feel that their manager provides developmental feedback to aid their career progression, and 25% do not feel they are supported in their career by senior leadership. This barrier is even more pronounced in the energy and infrastructure, and manufacturing industries.

Not only is career support and sponsorship from senior leadership critical to career advancement, it also appears to moderate women’s level of ambition. Several factors influence ambition, including the degree to which line managers and senior leaders support women’s development: the greater the support the more likely the woman will be ambitious about her progression within the organisation.

Lack of career support hinders women’s ambition

We analysed the data to understand the causal factors that impact ambition and a woman’s belief that she can progress within her organisation. We found three elements that directly impact a woman’s level of ambition:

  1. Whether her manager offers clear developmental feedback.
  2. Whether she feels safe to raise problems at work (but we know that 48% of women avoid raising problems at work because they do not want to be seen as a problem themselves).
  3. Whether she feels bullying and harassment are appropriately dealt with (21% of women do not feel that their organisation deal with bullying and harassment appropriately).

While not predictive in isolation, collectively, these elements are important hygiene factors for organisations if they want to create the right environment for women to happily progress. These factors are further moderated according to whether the woman perceives she has career support from senior leadership. Together, these factors influence a woman’s ambition for progression and belief that she can progress within the organisation.

This is important, as it suggests that organisations have more influence than previously thought in nurturing women’s ambition, by actively cultivating a developmental, supportive and psychologically safe environment.

What this means for organisations

Organisations must structure career development with measurable processes, strong manager capability, and positive action programmes to level the playing field.

Without a targeted approach to accelerating women’s development and representation so they can compete fairly, a level playing field is simply not attainable and mericocracy remains a myth.

Here are four practical steps that organisations can action today

  1. Build line manager capability in managing aspirational career discussions and in giving clear and meaningful development feedback
  2. Beyond promotions, look also at the allocation of high visibility assignments and projects as well as who is picking up the office ‘housework’
  3. Offer targeted women’s development programmes and sponsorship programmes. Women-only learning environments are particularly powerful for leadership identity development, empowerment and increased sense of belonging
  4. Ensure equitable access to opportunities, such as structured processes to allocate informal project assignments and ensure gender balance at formal networking events

It’s important to note that career development might require extra time and energy on top of day-to-day work, which can be particularly problematic for women with a disability who might not be able to give the extra time and can therefore inadvertently get excluded from career development opportunities.