What’s holding back female talent?


Factors like recruitment decisions being taken by men and companies fearing the prospect of maternity, mean women are recruited for jobs below their professional qualifications.

Only a third of Spanish and Latin American companies have more women than men on their payroll. Although more than half of all university graduates are women, less than 10 per cent of the seats on boards of directors are filled by women. This percentage drops to between one and two per cent when it comes to CEO positions at large companies. Consequently, decisions are made largely from a male point of view, squandering the valuable leadership input of women.

“Talento de Hombres y Mujeres,” a study by Mireia Las Heras, published by the International Center for Work and Family at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa at the University of Navarra in Spain in collaboration with RRHH 365, explores the causes of this gap and recommends how companies can improve their performance in this regard.

The study suggests that a man and a woman, even when equal professionally, are evaluated differently according to their gender, regardless of whether or not they have children. Often, when a woman is hired, her role is restricted to non-strategic areas or to support staff. Women routinely are relegated to positions below the level their professional qualifications would dictate.

Companies also fear the prospect of maternity, and women are excluded from informal contact networks, which are highly important for career development.

Recruitment processes are largely to blame for the glass ceiling, even in companies which, on paper, are committed to treating female applicants fairly. If even the human-resources department does not adhere to clearly established procedures, then what hope is there of objectivity in the recruitment process?

In recruiting processes for senior-management positions, in which decisions are predominantly made by men, the successful candidates are those with similar characteristics, normally men, even though they may not be the best fit for the position. This is because most people attribute higher competence levels to people with qualities akin to their own.

Another circumstance that stunts women’s chances of promotion in Spain and Latin America is that women in those regions generally bear the lion’s share of the responsibility when it comes to housework and caring for dependents.

Balancing the male-to-female ratio on boards of directors depends on the willingness of companies to do so. The authors propose the following measures:

First, develop systematic processes for hiring, evaluating and promoting employees, and clearly define job responsibilities and the competencies required for each position. This will remove the biases introduced by those in charge of the recruitment process.

Second, foster corporate family responsibility by advocating policies that are conducive to a better balance of work and family for all employees. Such policies include flexibility of hours and location, with the aim of furthering the integration of work/family conciliation for men and women, management systems that include family-related policies such as health benefits and information about dependent care, training on issues related to work/life balance and informal practices for meetings, teamwork and work systems that promote flexibility and discourage a culture of “presenteeism” and low performance.

Finally, guarantee diversity in decision-making teams. If there is genuine diversity in evaluation and promotion committees, this will be reflected in the judgments made, which should be more just and equitable for all.

© The New York Times 2014

© 2014 Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa, IESE Universidad de Navarra

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