A Blog series by Elise Misse

Blog #34

A Human Approach – Modern Leadership in a Changing World – Part 5

Flattening the Corporate Curve

In 2021, 31% of senior management roles across the globe were held by female employees. Sure, that’s not the 50% we’re all looking for, but it’s higher than any previous number. Although the needle is moving in the right direction, this data makes me think of a famous quote from George Canning, a former Prime Minister of Great Britain – “I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.”

I am not suggesting that this percentage figure is falsified, nor am I flippant about how vital it is. I sincerely hope a new generation of women in the workplace will notice this upward trend and draw inspiration from it. What I would say, however, is that gaining a management role and maintaining it are not one and the same. Instead of focusing exclusively on how many women are being hired in these positions, we also need to start measuring retention and inclusion.

While we should be grateful for more women taking on senior management roles, digging beneath the surface reveals a caveat that’s pretty concerning. Women are considerably likelier to retire early than men.

You may think that’s a positive, but this theoretical freedom is tempered by the fact that women are less likely to be in a financial position to comfortably retire early. The global gender pay gap remains a genuine concern in 2022, and in most cases, lower wages mean an inferior pension pot when the decision is made to wrap up work.

So, why are women likely to retire early, and what can we do the reverse this trend? As is often the case, a greater understanding of the pressures placed on working women, and notable attempts to balance the responsibilities of men and women in and out of the workplace, is critical.

First and foremost, we must consider the pressure placed on experienced women holding senior positions within a company. An undeniable bias still exists against women with young children or those that express an interest in starting a family. It may no longer be legal to outright dismiss an application from a woman on these grounds, but events of the global pandemic brought the pressures faced by working mothers firmly back into sharp focus.

On paper, more senior female employees face less discrimination. Business leaders seem to place more trust in women not raising small children. It appears that the belief is that once children reach their teens or beyond, a mother is prepared to allow her children to take a backseat and is likely to need unexpected time off for emergencies.

This theory just does not stack up to the lived experience of working parents. Older children are still children, and consequently, a balance between work and family remains critical. It could be argued that this is even more vital in 2022, as an increasing number of young people are facing a global mental health crisis – alongside the fact that women do not simply absolve themselves of responsibilities once their children can make their own breakfast and take a bus to school.

It remains vital that working parents – yes, fathers, that means you too – find an appropriate balance and can still spend time with their children as they grow. However, as is seemingly so often the case, the burden of expectation falls on mothers to make the necessary sacrifices.

We also need to remove the taboo surrounding conversations about female health. Let’s address the elephant in the room here – far too many women feel obligated to leave the workplace due to symptoms related to menopause.

23% of women in full-time employment are menopausal, but it seems that so few businesses are prepared to accommodate the unique needs imposed by the life stage. Andrea Berchowitz gives a fascinating TED Talk on how firms and employers can better accommodate menopausal women – and by extension, continue to benefit from their skills and experience.

As a global society, we are taking great strides forward in sharing seniority and opportunities among men and women. However, we need to be cautious that we do not spend so much time getting women into power that we do not consider how to keep them there.

Right now, there is a “brain drain” in terms of female employees leaving senior positions earlier than their male colleagues. This returns us to the same problems we have been battling for years – a distinct lack of equity, diversity and inclusion, and varying perspectives in boardrooms across the world. These issues and concerns will remain until we flatten the corporate curve and make the business world more welcoming to women aged 50 and above.

Key Takeaways –

  • More women are earning senior management roles, but substantially more women are retiring earlier than their male counterparts – despite rarely being in a financial position to do so.
  • We need to start putting support structures in place for (senior) women that wish to continue working, from the acknowledgment that work must still be balanced with family life to assistance and understanding of female health.
  • It’s great that women are earning more opportunities to gain senior positions, but we need to halt the drain in experience and expertise caused by female managers leaving the workplace earlier than their male counterparts.

About LEAD Network Europe

The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 18,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.

For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net