There is still much progress to be made in U.S. workplaces when it comes to training, mentoring, and retaining young women. Women in the Workplace 2019, a study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, highlighted the “broken rung” that women face early in their careers.1 Based upon five years of data collected from 590 companies, this study found that only 72 women are promoted and hired to manager for every 100 men. Furthermore, only 68 Latinas and 58 Black women are promoted from entry level to manager for every 100 men. The result is that men hold 62 percent of manager-level positions, and women of color are particularly disadvantaged by current practices.
Women in the Workplace 2019 concludes that: “contrary to popular belief, the glass ceiling is not the biggest obstacle to women’s progression. It is actually at the first step up to manager—or the ‘broken rung.’”
These findings square with a 2014 study by Bain & Company of more than 1,000 men and women in the U.S., which found that women disproportionately lose confidence after two years in the workforce.2,3 The study asked: “Do you aspire to top management within a large company?” and “Do you have confidence you can reach top management?” Among employees with less than two years of experience, 43% of women and 34% of men agreed with the first question, while 27% of women and 28% of men agreed with the second. However, among women with more than two years of experience, only 16% aspired to reach top management and 13% had confidence they could do so. By contrast, 34% of men with more than two years of experience aspired to reach top management, with 25% confident they could do so.
The study clarifies: “Many might assume this drop-off occurs as women get married and have children; however, our analysis suggests that marital and parental status do not significantly differ for women who aspire [to hold high-level positions] and women who don’t.”3
It may be that women are entering the workforce with high aspirations but losing confidence when the opportunities they are expecting fail to materialize.
What are some strategies for training, mentoring, and retaining young women? Claudia Piper, Senior VP at Webster Bank, and Ami Fatula, CFO at Samuels & Associates, both active members of CREW Boston, were generous enough to share their thoughts on this topic.
Piper, who was 2014 CREW Boston President, finds satisfaction in “paying it forward” as a mentor through CREW Boston’s mentoring program. Piper did not have mentors when she was starting out her career, but now, she helps her mentees to push the envelope by asking them specific and probing questions.
Piper said that thinking about a young employee’s career trajectory is essential to retaining them: “The most important strategy is for particularly the direct manager… to think of that employee as a whole person but also to consider their career goals and aspirations, not just: ‘are they going to do a good job on this project?’”
Similarly, Fatula notes that getting to know an employee on a personal level actually allows for the company to train them more effectively: “It starts with getting to know the person. It doesn’t have to be in-depth and boundary crossing... What are their likes and dislikes? And what works for them as an individual? Training is best done in the style of how the person learns.” Fatula has also found that employees have the most work-life happiness when they have layers of growth opportunities as they reach various milestones.
In the context of remote work, it can be more difficult to focus on individual interactions in this way. Fatula placed greater focus on one-on-one check-ins during the pandemic, and Samuels & Associates created norms around attending virtual company events by holding structured events frequently. Piper encouraged young women to get to know more people at their company by offering to work on their projects.
Whether in person or remote, there are clearly still improvements to be made in how young women experience and progress through U.S. workplaces. That very much starts with thinking about young women’s individual career trajectories in a personal way.
1. Women in the Workplace 2019 - McKinsey & Company | LeanIn.Org
2. Companies Drain Women's Abition After Only Two Years - Bain & Company
3. Everyday Moments of Truth: Frontline Managers are Key to Women's Career Aspirations - Bain & Company
Ginny Keesler is a Senior Finance Project Manager at The Community Builders (TCB), managing the financial structuring, financial modeling, and negotiation of equity & loan documents for a portfolio of affordable housing development projects located in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. She originally started at TCB in 2015, after graduating with a Master in Urban Planning from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Over the past seven years, Ginny’s work has spanned a wide variety of financing structures, from occupied rehabs with complex tax-exempt bond structuring, to mixed-income, new construction projects utilizing master lease structures to mitigate market risk.
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