Earlier this year, The Guardian newspaper reported that 73 per cent of female managers believe barriers to advancement still exist, compared with only 38 per cent of men. These figures came as a result of a survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, and is just one of many similar surveys reporting such findings; research by the insurer Friends Life last month showed that 53 per cent of women think they will be still be struggling to secure senior roles by 2020. There are also reports that those women that do find themselves surpassing the “glass ceiling” and landing top management positions often feel like outsiders when they get there.
One of the ways that business schools are helping with this scenario is by offering executive education programs specifically tailored to address issues faced by women in the workplace, thereby encouraging more to secure and sit confidently in executive roles.
In this respect, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is a leader in such programs, offering a variety of courses focusing on women in management. These programs are run by the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business and include coverage of topics such as Business Leadership for Women Lawyers and a Back to Work program for women returning to business after an extended period of absence. “Women are the future of business,” says the Initiative’s Executive Director Professor Beatrix Dart. “We need to do everything we can to equip them now and change obstacles in the business environment that prevent their participation and rise.”
One of the important aspects of these programs is helping participants build professional confidence, especially where they face transitions to higher levels of leadership. Recent research published by Harvard Business Review has demonstrated that women are in fact a bigger factor contributing towards a team’s collective intelligence than these teams, or even they, may realise. Professors from Carnegie Mellon University and the MIT Sloan School of Management found that there is little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members; but if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.
With such encouraging findings being published alongside surveys reporting a large percentage of women considering the glass ceiling to still be very much in existence, programs providing women with the confidence and support they need to surpass the final barriers in the way of their leadership success may become more widespread in the near future. The glass ceiling of today may be of a different kind than it was in the last few decades, relating now to a gap in, for example, negotiation skills, strategic vision, confidence, etc. In this respect, business schools have the opportunity to make a significant impact, and help rid these barriers once and for all.
Already, demand for executive education addressing issues for women has begun to spread globally; earlier this year, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business delivered a custom program for female professionals from the banking and finance industries in Dubai, in partnership with the Emirates Institute of Banking and Financial Studies. The five-day course was led by Professor Erika Hayes James, who also leads the same program (Women Emerging in Leadership) back in Virginia.
“Clearly there are things that every manager and every leader needs to learn,” she explains. But, she emphasises, there are special needs associated with women and unique challenges faced by them in most business environments today. As such, among the crucial skills taught on the program are communication, negotiation, change management, and trust-building skills.
The much needed “voice” for women’s issues in business seems to finally be here. As put by Rotman’s Beatrix Dart, “having a team focused solely on women in business will help us to work in partnership with other dedicated groups to make sure these issues are raised and addressed.”