March 25, 2009

Breaking the Gender Divide There’s no disputing that women are not well represented in the boardroom or the executive suite, but the desire for greater challenges at work cuts across gender lines. A recent survey by Accenture “Untapped Potential: Stretching Toward the Future” suggests that women and men in management are not being challenged enough. Reading the survey results, one might conclude that the differences among men and women in the workplace are more about perception than reality. A higher percentage of women (54 percent) than men (51 percent) worldwide believe they are challenged in their current position. Leading the world in terms of challenging women in the workplace, India tallied the highest percentage at 66 percent, a point higher than the figure for men in India. Women in Russia and Mexico reported the lowest engagement level, just 40 and 31 percent, respectively, report being challenged. In terms of rating their own success, women in Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S. report the highest level of satisfaction, all rating above 70 percent. In European countries the number of women who report having successful careers hovers in the 50 percent range. Also clear from the survey is that women who consider themselves successful go at step further whether it means asking the boss for more difficult assignments, taking on additional responsibilities or acquiring new skills. Among women who consider themselves successful, just 46 percent have jobs that require them to stretch beyond their normal responsibilities, a figure that appears low. Surprisingly, the figure is even lower for men, just 33 percent. The idea about men being more aggressive in the workplace might also be put to rest based on the survey data. Women are more likely to ask their superiors for new challenges than men, notably in the U.S., Spain, Russia, and Britain. Men are more likely to ask for a raise than women but not by wide margins. The margin of difference is only a few percentage points in most countries surveyed.
Searching for Star Performers Managers play favorites. They’re not supposed to, but they do. A recent study by Novations indicates that managers have preconceived notions about who among their staff has the greatest potential and then parcels out choice assignments to those they believe are the strongest performers. Employers were asked about the prevailing belief in their organization regarding talent and potential. Forty-seven percent said that some employees have more potential than others, and management should identify and invest in that population. Just 34 percent said all employees are capable of high potential. Another 15 percent said there was no prevailing belief inside their organization. A small pool of chosen performers gets smaller still. Thirty percent of managers believe that just 20 percent of their staff members are performing at “go to” levels, meaning a high enough level of productivity to warrant being called upon regularly by that managers to complete necessary assignments. Only six percent of managers believe that 50 percent of their employees are performing at “go to” levels. The attitude that gems in the workplace just need to be found is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In some fields like entertainment, potential is a curse word. But in the minds of too many workplace managers, it doesn’t exist at all. The message is clear: pick out an all-star team and focus energies in their direction. Forget about everyone else. No wonder engagement levels are low, retention is low and managers are frustrated with increasing workloads. In times of reduced workforces and increased productivity, managers are sending a signal that only the chosen ones are worthy of attention. They should be doing the opposite: investing in the performance of all. By relying upon the same small circle of employees, a “go to” team, managers risk isolating individuals who could blossom into valuable contributors in a short period of time.

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