Gender Discrimination Begins Much Earlier Than Exec Levels, Report Shows

By Staff Report

May. 12, 2009

Despite discussion regarding women hitting the glass ceiling once they reach the executive level, discrimination starts much earlier in their career, according to a recent paper by Development Dimensions International.

“Holding Women Back,” which is based on responses from 12,800 leaders in 76 countries, found that women face gender discrimination from the very beginning of their careers.

“Our data suggests that when you look at the things that would help people develop in their careers, women wouldn’t get the same opportunities as men did,” said Ann Howard, DDI’s chief scientist.

One of the main areas where employers fail to include women is in their high-potential programs, where they identify those employees who managers believe could make strong leaders someday.

According to the study, there were 28 percent more men than women in high-potential programs at the first level of management and 50 percent more men than women in such programs at the executive level.

The problem with many companies’ high-potential programs is that there is often no standard procedure to identify candidates, Howard said. Usually it’s up to the managers to choose candidates, she added.

“I’m not saying that there is some evil plot here,” Howard said. “It’s just that managers might think about future executives as men because that is the traditional norm at the company.”

Many companies don’t track how many women participate in high-potential programs, which also adds to this problem, said Jan Combopiano, vice president and chief knowledge officer at Catalyst, a New York-based organization dedicated to helping businesses build inclusive workplaces for women.

“It’s really important that there is accountability tied to these programs,” Combopiano said. “It’s critical for overcoming gender stereotyping.”

Another way to make sure that women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers is by having a formal succession planning program in place, Howard said.

“It sets the same objective standards for everyone,” she said.

Companies need to pay attention to all leadership development programs and make sure gender stereotypes don’t get in the way of advancing women, Howard said.

“Employers need to have objective performance management standards in place,” she said.

Too often a company will say that there aren’t women in management roles because they took time off to have babies, but that often doesn’t explain the issue, Howard said.

“The bottom line is that women are just as capable as men and if you have objective standards in place, women can show their stuff,” she said.

—Jessica Marquez

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