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Crucial for women workers to have sponsor for promotion

Women need to be wary of threats to career and 'illusion of progress' at workplace

Doing quality work alone is not the key to unlocking the executive boardroom, especially for women.

That is because female employees, more than their male counterparts, tend to shy away from articulating their value to an organisation, fearing they may be perceived as "bragging".

Research showed that women do not raise their hands until they know they can do the job, so they may not seek stretch assignments or positions that require profit-and-loss know-how.

If women are not self-promoting themselves to the male leaders, who are the majority, how will they advance?

Female employees need a sponsor, "someone high up in the corporate structures" who will talk about them for them.

Sponsorship was a key point in the white paper Women, We Have A Problem - Why It's Time For Employers To Get Talking by career and talent development expert, Right Management.

Released in April, the paper was the result of a survey of more than 4,400 employees and managers - half of them women - in 15 countries, including China, Switzerland and the US.

The study, conducted in November and December 2015 as part of Right Management's Global Career Conversations series, noted an "illusion of progress".

"In the United Kingdom, (British Prime Minister) Theresa May is the steady hand at the Brexit helm...

"Abenomics has increased female participation in the labour market in Japan by one million and increased female corporate board members by 30 per cent.

"But these high-profile roles may be just an illusion of progress," the paper noted.

In reality, women face a triple threat.

  • Women are under-represented in industries anticipating the greatest job growth - engineering, technology, architecture and mathematics.
  • Women are over-represented in sectors most threatened by digitisation, automation and robotics - office and administration positions.
  • The number of senior positions held by women has risen just 3 per cent in the past five years to 24 per cent, according to the study Women In Business: Turning Promise Into Practice last year by tax advisory group Grant Thornton.

Ms Mara Swan, talent and global brand lead at Right Management, noted that digitisation is here to stay.

"As technology continues to disrupt, and we see the emergence of a skills revolution, we know the biggest impact will be felt by women," said Ms Swan, who is also the executive vice-president for global strategy at ManpowerGroup, which Right Management is part of.

People must be told what new skills they need to refresh themselves with today for the jobs of tomorrow.

Yet, one in five women has never had a basic assessment of their skills, and one in four has never had a career conversation about how they can develop.

Rather like coaching sessions, career conversations focus on questions such as:

  • How do I fit? Clarify your career goals and match them with your values, motivations and abilities.
  • What is expected of me? Map out with your manager goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound, or SMART.
  • What and how should I develop? Lay out a timeline of individual skills needed for current and future roles while bearing in mind lifelong employability.

In addition, women in leadership roles need to consider these questions: What do I add to my team? What specific strengths do I have, and what are examples of those in action? How has the organisation benefited from my work in the last six months?

To avoid "pink ghettos" - concentrations of women in human resource, communications and support roles - more women need mentoring on skills such as profit-and-loss exposure and sponsorship to succeed.

This article was contributed by Right Management (www.rightmanagement.sg), the global career experts within United States-listed HR consulting firm ManpowerGroup.

Get a sponsor

The difference between a sponsor and a mentor is often misunderstood.

Right Management's group executive vice-president, Asia Pacific Middle East, Ms Bridget Beattie, explained: "A sponsor is someone on your side, pushing you - your position, your skills, your value - forward to the organisation.

Mentors may teach you skills such as profit-and-loss management and act as a sounding board. But they do not help you get ahead.

Sponsors do. They have open conversations, help address how work gets done and the way performance is measured.

CONSCIOUS INCLUSION

Sponsors create a culture of conscious inclusion and, as a matter of practice, advocate for women in the boardroom.

Women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Right Management found that eight in 10 of women were unable to find a sponsor within their organisation.

Forward-thinking companies equip senior leaders to become sponsors, facilitate the movement of high-potential employees, and make sponsorship a critical part of their talent strategy.

CareerBusinessSingapore