American Express Chief Diversity Officer, Valerie Grillo, explains why some women are falling off the corporate ladder.
Why are women falling off the corporate ladder just shy of reaching the top?
In 2014, American Express sponsored new research with the Center for Talent innovation (CTI) to uncover what women want out of their careers and to better understand why highly capable women are conflicted about pursuing top jobs. Is there a gap between what they want and what they believe they will get in top positions? The answer is “yes.”
The study found that women want these five things from their work – the ability to:
1. Flourish –Women want to have a high quality of life as they ascend throughout their career. They want to have control over how and when they work, and want to ensure have a focus on their health and well being.
2. Excel – Research shows that women want to make an impact on their colleagues, organization, and businesses. They want to be the masters of their trade and be the center of expertise in their field. They also want to be recognized for it.
3. Reach for Meaning and Purpose – She wants work that allows her to model success and exceed expectations – to have excelled in her work and to leave an impact in her field. Women also find work to have more meaning when it helps advance causes important to them.
4. Empower Others and be Empowered – Women want sponsors and they seek protégés.
5. Earn Well – Women want to have financial security and freedom.
These 5 things are, interestingly, the same things that men want, however, more often, men get what they want because they go after it. Women on the other hand, are not sure that senior level roles will afford them what they want, and hence may not go after the 5 things they hold dearly.
But don’t get me wrong, women are fiercely ambitious and driven. As an executive coach and mentor to many women at American Express, I’ve seen this disconnect between what junior women think comes with senior-level roles and what those senior roles actually require. CTI’s research shows that junior women do not fully understand that power, which comes with senior-level roles, can actually give them what they want from a job. Junior women tend to think that the burdens of leadership outweighs the benefits when, in reality, research shows that with the power, women get more of what they want –in the US, women with power reported that 58% have the ability to flourish, 87% to excel, 63% have the ability to reach for meaning and purpose and 61% can empower others and be empowered. My advice:
Change the Narrative – are you more inclined to share a negative restaurant experience on Yelp or a positive one? What about the last product that you ordered from Amazon? At work, do you share the negatives and the positives equally? If you are a woman in a top leadership role, shift the conversations to focus on the positive aspects of what power has afforded you.
Know what it takes – senior women should help junior women understand what it truly takes to advance. Do you need to have 100% of the skills needed for the role now? Can you obtain those skills in the role?
Ask and be Curious – find someone who has the top position that you want (that could be someone at your company or elsewhere), network with them and seek their advice.
“Power has bad press with women,” stated Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Founder and CEO of CTI. “We need more women to understand that with power, they can get what they really want from their careers and women and organizations have a role to play in making this apparent. Powerful women need to speak out about the joys of power instead of the sacrifices. Companies can give women a better understanding of the opportunities power brings—and give them a taste of the five things they want as they traverse the path to leadership.”
CTI’s mission in launching this report is to convince more women to take on the top job by making transparent the benefits power affords. The company will use the report findings and featured best practices to promote the development of company initiatives that enable rising female talent.
American Express hosted the launch event for the “Women Want Five Things” research where many of our high performing female managers attended. Next up for us is to build in development frameworks for our women to guide them through to the top levels of our organization.
To fulfill women’s leadership potential, companies need to help change women’s perceptions of a top job and support them in their pursuit of leadership by giving them what they most want from their careers. It is also important to encourage candid conversations between senior and junior women to debunk the negative perceptions surrounding senior-level roles.
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