The Invisible Woman

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The Invisible Woman

By Sarah Alter, President & CEO, Network of Executive Women - 05/16/2019

There is a growing realization that flexible work arrangements are key to attracting, keeping and advancing talented women. But how important is facetime in the office vs. job performance results when it comes to career advancement? Unfortunately, facetime with senior leaders persists as one key to career advancement. Employees who interact regularly with a company’s senior leaders are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, according to McKinsey & Co.’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. They’re also more likely to stay with companies and aspire to be leaders themselves.

However 33% of the women surveyed for “Women in the Workplace” said they’d never had a significant discussion with a senior leader about their work (compared to 27% of men). For some women of color, access is even more limited. Forty percent of black women reported never having a substantive work-related conversation with a senior leader.

Women are also less likely than men to socialize with managers or other executives outside the workplace. Nearly half of women surveyed said they have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader, compared to 40% of men. Meanwhile, 54% percent of Latinas and nearly 60% of black women said they’ve never had an informal interaction with a senior leader.

At all points in their careers, women have fewer opportunities to demonstrate their skills, show off their work results or make strategic connections with career-opportunity gatekeepers. When managers are considering candidates for stretch assignments, leadership development or promotions, they’re more likely to choose a man.

Seeking Sponsors

One way to level the playing field is to encourage senior leaders to sponsor women. A full 70% of the 70 organizations named 2019 Top Companies for Executive Women by the National Association for Female Executives have sponsorship initiatives.

Companies can support more sponsorship with  these five actions suggested by Working Mother magazine:

  • Expose senior leaders to high-potential talents from different groups, especially underrepresented populations
  • Link sponsorship to senior executives’ goals, performance reviews and compensation
  • Have clear objectives for sponsorship and communicate to everyone involved
  • Use employee resource groups to find high-potential women worthy of sponsorship
  • Measure promotion and retention rates of those who are sponsored versus people not sponsored in similar roles

The NEW Blueprint for Gender Equality lays out best practices for companies who are working to create a gender diverse and inclusive workplace. 

J.P. Morgan’s Women on the Move initiative’s 30-5-1 campaign brings women and men together for 36 minutes each week to supporting women’s growth and development. Participants commit to spending 30 minutes having coffee with a talented up-and-coming woman, five minutes congratulating a female colleague on a win or success and one minute talking up the woman who had that win with other colleagues.

“At JPMorgan Chase, we have a truly amazing group of female colleagues,” said J.P. Morgan’s Asset and Wealth Management CEO Mary Erdoes, co-sponsor of Women on the Move. “It’s up to each one of us — men and women alike — to ensure they have the support mechanisms they need to succeed.”

Formal, structured development programs that support facetime with senior leaders benefit talented women and men, but especially those who may otherwise be unseen — or overlooked.

Sarah Alter, President & CEO, Network of Executive Women

Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a learning and leadership community representing 12,400 members in 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. Learn more at newonline.org.