Bridging the skills gap
By Talent in Logistics Journal-
Spring hails the annual celebration of International Women’s Day, with the recent 2020 event focusing on ‘Each for Equal’. Sadly, research continues to show that there is still a long way to go before we see true equality in the workplace.
Research last year by YouGov, commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust, found that one in five women still believe their workplace is sexist and one in 10 men believe men make better managers than women. The most astounding part of the research is that there’s still the antiquated notion that gender can affect leadership ability. This is holding women back in the workplace.
The YouGov survey also revealed that 10 per cent of men not only claimed that men make better managers, but found it acceptable to express it. Unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of this survey-type research is that we cannot go back to the respondent and ask them why they feel this way, which may unearth more interesting insights. Perhaps some of the respondents had a particularly bruising experience with a female manager and then, instead of focusing the criticism on the individual’s behaviour, decided it was as a result of their gender.
The Institute of Leadership & Management has also researched the experiences of workers and exposed this gender divide. Our research focuses on the everyday practice of leadership and management, providing insights into the behaviour of leaders and managers. A repeated finding from our research is the importance of trust and how much people want to trust their leaders and managers.
A 2019 study, Trust in Leaders, indicated that female managers are slightly more trusted than their male counterparts. This could be explained biologically by women having higher oxytocin levels, sociologically by us being programmed to trust women more than men, or psychologically by women and men having different degrees of emotional intelligence. However, we choose to explain it and there is not a definitive answer. What is clear is that the behaviours that are traditionally associated with female managers - the willingness to consult, to collaborate, or - a behaviour more in demand post-financial crisis - to be more risk-averse, all create higher levels of trust.
In January 2019 and again in January 2020, the institute undertook research exploring whether, and why, people might be looking for new jobs. Levels of dissatisfaction and the desire to leave or work somewhere else were similar in both years.
One of the main reasons for this dissatisfaction was people not feeling valued by their managers, or not having enough opportunities for growth and development. We also wanted to know what made people not leave their jobs; 70 per cent of the respondents reported that ‘getting on well with their colleagues’ was one of their top three reasons for staying. Colleagues are obviously tremendously important at work, as they provide some of the joy in the working day.
In our 2020 research, everyone had career goals for the new decade, with respondents saying they wanted to get better at leading and managing, expand their professional knowledge and improve their work-life balance. When we analysed the results for men and women, we found they had quite different approaches to progressing in their fields.
Far more women than men thought they needed to boost their confidence and more men than women thought they needed to expand their professional knowledge. Men wanted to build their brand, but both men and women recognised the importance of a mentor.
What stands out is the perennial finding of women feeling they lack confidence, that they are in deficit; but this could indicate that the norm is overconfidence. Men worry less about boosting their confidence because, as research evidence indicates, men are more likely to be confident about their abilities and more likely to say that they can do a job when they don’t appear to have 100 per cent of what's needed to do that job.
So, what is the skills gap that women have to bridge?
More important questions are: “What skills are we building? ”, “What interview and promotion practices recognise gender differences? ”, and, “Are we rewarding people who are overselling themselves and somehow blaming people who are underselling themselves? ”
When you are asked: “What do you want from a manager? ”, it would be very surprising if the response: “being a man”, was high on the list. Trust flourishes in a safe, friendly, relationship-oriented culture and 21st century leaders need these positive emotions to help them solve complex problems and foster cooperative relationships.
Safe and trusting environments are more enjoyable, creative and altogether more fun places to work. These are the skills we should be building and ones that many women already bring with them to work.