It's a well-known fact that women choose to leave the workforce around the time they reach middle management to focus on their family life instead… right?
Not quite. While it may be true that women in certain industries -- comms amongst them -- tend to leave the workforce when they've reached middle management positions, the motivations for doing so are far more professional than personal. More often than not, women leave because of a lack of effective support over the span of their careers, according to Bonnie Marcus, a former CEO, career coach and author of "The Politics of Promotion."
Marcus recently put out a study, "Lost Leaders in the Pipeline," that found that 74% of women identify as very or extremely ambitious, but that ambition tends to wane as they lack the support and encouragement to stay on track over the course of their careers.
"Very often, you bring on high-potential women, they get a lot of attention initially, and then they get lost," she said.
She found that women tend to choose -- or be steered towards -- staff roles that don't lead to the C-suite, are not offered more senior-level positions as often as men or self-select out of them by not applying for promotions. At the same time, she said many companies either make it hard to balance professional and personal lives by not offering flexible policies or they assume a woman who also has a family wants to slow down and take her off the fast track. They may give lip service to gender parity, but they often aren't supporting women in the ways they need.
"When women feel there is a definite career path for them and it gives them different experiences across the organization, then they can see that the company is invested in them and can see their way to taking a leadership role," Marcus says. "Otherwise, it's left to chance. We change jobs, go from one manager to another and in some ways we need to start all over again, and we lose that support and the leadership track."
Research last year from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org had similar findings as Marcus's, noting that women tend to leave the workforce not by choice, but because of obstacles they face in it, often stemming from unconscious biases, inauthentic commitments to gender diversity and less advancement in "line" roles. (See McKinsey: Women Less Likely to Advance at Work.)
Why women leave or fail to advance at the middle management level and, more importantly, what to do about it is the topic of Women in Comm's next networking event, coming up next Tuesday, October 18, in London at the Women in TMT meet-up at Broadband World Forum.
Light Reading Managing Editor Elizabeth Coyne will lead a panel discussion on the "middle management muddle" with Lorna Keane, engineering manager in the Network Platforms Group at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC); Erin Callaghan, managing consultant, Advanced Technology, EMEA for Korn Ferry Futurestep; Alexandra Tempest, director of Partners at TalkTalk Business; and Jehanne Savi, executive leader of the All-IP & On-Demand Networks Programs at Orange (NYSE: FTE) Corp.
The panel will offer diverse points of view, including insights from two executives that have made it past middle management, one who is currently at the managerial level with a baby on the way and one who focuses on recruiting for this "mascarpone" level of the workforce in the comms industry.
It will be a thought-provoking, inspiring, but also practical discussion on how to help women advance and how to make it easier to stick to the career plan in the face of adversity. And, as always, there will be plenty of time for audience questions and networking with other successful women in comms.
Join us next Tuesday, and stick around for more great discussions at KNect's Women in TMT meet-up around supporting and promoting female leaders. Last month we had a great time getting uncomfortable in Denver, and now we hope you'll come get unstuck with us in London! See you there. (See Come Get Uncomfortable With WiC in Denver.)
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms