Given the projected talent deficit over the next 20 years, today’s inflexible and exclusionary approaches to management succession will cease to yield the supply of leaders to drive innovation and higher performance unless employers create more meaningful leadership and development opportunities for the single largest segment of university graduates around the world – women

Given the projected talent deficit over the next 20 years, today’s inflexible and exclusionary approaches to management succession will cease to yield the supply of leaders to drive innovation and higher performance unless employers create more meaningful leadership and development opportunities for the single largest segment of university graduates around the world – women.

Women’s careers are far more likely to include periods of full engagement, potential disengagement, and, with increasing frequency, re-engagement with full-time employment than men’s. Yet the vast majority of companies have failed to recognize the potentially non-sequential nature of women’s career focus.

One study by the French GEF – Le Groupe Grandes Ecoles au Feminin, a consortium including HEC Paris and INSEAD – suggests that men aren’t even aware that their women colleagues don’t in any comparable numbers have as many career advancement options as their male colleagues. That may result from the reality that men in far greater numbers build a career step-by-step, year-on-year without any break in their service tenure to their employers.

Companies are not yet organized to entrust women with top management-level responsibilities and to afford them the flexibility to take care of their children. This has boxed many women leaders into choosing, at some point in their career, either one role or the other. Women executives can put their career at the center point of their lives. The only condition is that either they don’t have kids or that the husband takes over the traditional mom’s role.

The inflexible nature of many senior executive roles will, however, be pressured as the anticipated scarcity of proven performers in many functions and industries worldwide will force more employers to differentiate their leadership opportunities to attract, retain and reward top management talent. In fact, a growing number of advocacy organizations have created opportunities for women business leaders – many of whom ‘broke the ice’ by becoming the first women in their organizations hold a particular leadership role – to mentor and interact with a new generation of women managers.

Also, a variety of forward-looking employers in industries ranging from telecommunications and media to management consulting in countries such as France, the United States and Sweden (to name just a few) have created executive search opportunities and women’s leadership initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field for career and organizational advancement. Employers will need to adopt more flexible career options as they compete for leaders whose lifestyles are subject to change but who may seek new and creative options for sustaining their careers during any break from the full-time workforce.

Very few really have it all when it comes to senior executive roles – but the successful ones have established great manageability in attaining success and happiness both personally and professionally and can determine what must be committed to the corporate and personal family. Executive roles held by both men and women require a mantle of commitment. The corporate ‘family’ demands attention, time, and physical presence – just as the personal family requires.

Corporations are in business to make money and grow. It is increasingly obvious that qualified women are becoming available and are making a difference in the bottom line, and corporations that have a drive to succeed are responding accordingly. The challenge for these organizations is to understand the challenges unique to women leaders and how to address them in a way that expands the talent pool for a wide range of critical business functions.

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