Women should be demanding professional development | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 31, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:01 AM, May 31, 2019

Women should be demanding professional development

As we celebrate International Women’s Day every year and commemorate the achievements of said women, we should perhaps take a moment to reflect on whether equality has yet been established. Gender biases still plague the so-called advanced corporate world. Organisations still fail to utilise one half of its existing workforce- the females. The good news is that, most companies are now realising that they are lacking in this. The woman-workforce is a vital source of competitive edge in the industry.

There has been research by numerous organisations and entities that having women at the top, heavily involved in the activities, can result in better performance and stability. As a result, gender diversity is being chased by organisations of all sizes; however, the effort falls short at leadership levels.

From entry-level to C-level positions, women workers face more barriers and advance at a slower pace compared to their male counterparts. Even when training is available, the opportunity to advance and apply skills may not always exist. In a Skillsoft survey, 486 women worldwide answered on the topics of imbalance of women in leadership and senior management roles, what it means for working women who make up 50 per cent of the work force, and the importance of programs aimed at women leaders.

More than half of the respondents (54 per cent) highlighted the importance of offering leadership training specific to women, but nearly 70 per cent of the female participants believed that their employers do not currently provide adequate resources and support to help them progress in their careers.

According to an analysis by Harvard Business Review, only 6.4 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were run by female CEOs in 2017. The pool of female executives is small, not because of a lack of ambitions from the women’s side, but because we are missing opportunities to develop and inspire them earlier in their career. Bottom line is that there just isn’t enough women in upper management leadership positions, and that is seriously alarming!

As keen observers have noticed, there are several obstacles blocking women from getting promotions. The women in question can see the other side and feel that it’s nearing but cannot reach it. This is appropriately known as the ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon. In order to break it, there are some critical factors. One key factor is that women need to learn skills and acquire knowledge that can enable them to have a fast growing career and leadership success.

Another factor is the level of professional development. It’s a term we see people throwing around. Lots of companies claim to provide it. There are two kinds of professional development companies can offer. They could either provide straightforward training or provide training that invokes meaningful development. Does either really help women grow?

There is one key difference between women and men in the workforce- the type of on-the-job development they receive. On one hand, male employees are picked from the clutter, spoon-fed identified growth opportunities and connected to people who can facilitate their growth. Whereas, females are given the talk on how to survive in the workplace and advised on what not to do and what to expect. In the end, men end up getting institutional and full-blown professional development, while women get “training” for training’s sake. It’s no wonder that women are left behind.

With the help of colleagues and surroundings, women can further their career development. As a woman, ask and keep a lookout for the jobs that give you the right experiences that enable professional brand-building and prompt the learning of strategies quintessential for juggling work and life. Female CEOs tend to fix their trajectory high at the start of their professional journey. They do not sit around and wait for a recruiter to call with an opportunity. They use their entrepreneurial drive and expertise to prove themselves throughout their professional journey.

At the end of the day, the goal of professional development isn’t limited to learning vaguely about your role. It’s equipping yourself with the skills and experiences that will help you grow within and outside your organisation. This might not, however, serve as a solution to other issues women in the workforce face such as career-gap or the infamous pay gap.

To conclude, what role can an organisation play in encouraging their women employees to seek professional development? How can they ensure that the women (in all positions) are equipped enough to climb the corporate ladder with the right learning and development opportunities? Organisations should take a proactive stance on providing access to continuous learning and design a customised learning experience for its robust woman-force. Alongside, they should provide on-the-job performance support.

Shabiba graduated from BRAC University and is thinking of retiring to the mountains. Reach her at shabiba.bhabib@gmail.com.

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