The questions in the last paragraph were to get you thinking about your organization and the opportunities available for women. Many people have unconscious biases. In fact those who believe that they do NOT have biases, make significantly more biased decisions than those who are aware and actively trying to combat their biases.
Leaders often believe that women are not willing or able to take time away from their families to complete advanced training. This is in large part because women are normally the ones responsible for family centric chores, such as preparing meals and taking care of their homes. The research shows that women are just as willing as men to make personal sacrifices to get the experience and training required to advance in their careers. Here’s a real life example that a friend shared with me. When he was the Director of Information Technology services at a major bank he overheard two of his staff discussing their family care plans in preparation to attend a course conducted in another city. My friend was concerned to hear about his staff preparing meals in advance and leaving detailed instructions for their spouses so he offered to postpone their training. The women categorically refused to delay the course. They had their plans in place and were looking forward to a working vacation, where all they were expected to do was attend the course and learn.
I know that many men and women are frustrated when they hear about quotas for women. Unfortunately the fact is that in many organizations qualified women candidates are still being overlooked. Quotas for women to attend education, training, and professional development are a valid and generally successful way to increase the percentage of women accessing these opportunities, at least until such a time as women’s participation is considered the norm.
When I was served in the military I took great pride in achieving success on my merit and not as a result of my gender. As a Logistics officer, I served and trained with many women and men. The military prides itself on offering in depth training and education. In my 28 year career, only three of the courses I attended had a student population with 10% or fewer women students. Two of the courses were taken early in my career and were very army focused. The third course was the Joint Command Staff Program, a post-graduate university level leadership program for senior officers. Sixty percent of the graduates were expected to hold senior leadership positions such as Commanding Officer. The remainder were expected to hold senior appointments, strategic level staff jobs at starting at the rank the Lieutenant-Colonel.
As I was completing this course I was honoured to learn that I was being considered for an important leadership post, one that had yet to be held by a woman officer. I was thrilled to think I might be the first woman to hold that job, until I learned that everyone being considered was a woman. I knew that we were all qualified or we would not have been on the short list. However, I was incredibly frustrated that the only way the organization could achieve the goal of having a woman hold this job was to only consider women. To me this signified that even though the military had come a long way, it had yet to fully embrace that women could hold key leadership roles.
How does your organization promote education, training and professional development for women? Do you offer women the opportunity to learn and progress by holding key jobs? Join the conversation here or through the Knowledge Gateway http://www.empowerwomen.org/ a web-based information portal funded by the Government of Canada.
You can also learn more about how other organizations are implementing policies and programs in support of Principle 4 at http://www.weprinciples.org/Site/Principle4/