We were fortunate enough to recently attend Changeboard’s Future Talent Conference, which played host to a number of fantastic speakers. Amongst them was Clare Moncrieff from CEB who talked about harnessing the potential of two key talent segments – Millennials and Women.

As a working woman, I found the latter subject particularly fascinating and it’s something that comes up on a daily basis in the world of recruitment. How can we better harness the potential of women? Clare explained that there are two common myths surrounding women in business:

  1. MYTH: Women don’t have the same level of leadership aspirations as men
    REALITY: It’s a visibility problem, not a lack of aspiration
  2. MYTH: Flexible work schedules are a special benefit
    REALITY: Flexible schedules should be a default, not a benefit

Research has shown that the aspiration levels of women and men are essentially equal and that women are as willing to accept challenges as men. So what this suggests is that organisations should demonstrate to women that opportunities on the leadership track are available and not assume that they have less of a natural interest in reaching the top.

When asked ‘what would help women most in the career progression?’ the overwhelming majority of women leaders cited flexible working as the most effective tool. Yet the perception from senior leaders in organisations is that flexitime ranks in fifth place as the most effective initiative to promote female careers – after coaching, networking, mentoring, and maternity leave policies.

So rather than seeing flexible work schedules as a special benefit, organisations should make them the default for all levels. If organisations make flexibility the norm, it will de-stigmatise it, and research has shown that women who are given flexibility in their roles are more than twice as likely to stay with that organisation.

Despite the continued focus on gender balance, the percentage of women in leadership roles has only increased incrementally. This suggests that there is a big gap between what women say helps advance them at work, and what organisations are actually doing. Surely it is time that organisations stopped making assumptions about what women want, and simply asked them?

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