As featured in Construction and Civil Engineering Magazine
Certain industries still struggle to support the development of female leaders. Samantha Caine explains how this can change.
Five decades of research has highlighted a clear link between women in leadership and increased business performance, yet statistics show that women are still in comparatively short supply throughout industries such as manufacturing, construction and engineering – particularly when it comes to management and director level positions.
Much attention has been placed on how women can be encouraged to work within these industries, yet further focus must be placed on how once qualified and recruited, male dominated organisations can retain and develop female talent and create a greater number of female leaders.
The lack of female leadership in manufacturing, construction and engineering comes down to a combination of factors. These industries simply aren’t promoted enough in schools as a desirable career choice – particularly for women – yet this is when young people so often realise their aspirations and choose their career paths. There are numerous functions other than engineers and technicians supporting these industries that are so seldom talked about.
There are incredibly rewarding careers that demand aspirational talent, but those roles simply aren’t given enough exposure to capture the imaginations of young women. This creates a knock-on effect for recruiters that are actively seeking a diverse mix of male and female candidates, finding a far higher percentage of male candidates and very few females.
Women are typically well represented in HR, marketing and PR, and junior functions in these professions often attract women into organisations before theybegin their upward trajectory through the organisation’s hierarchy. However, in the manufacturing, construction and engineering industries, these functions are commonly outsourced, providing further explanation to why these industries generally lack female leadership.
The parameters of diversity
If organisations are serious about increasing the number of females they employ, they must take a proactive approach. Some are beginning to recognise the importance of nurturing more diverse workforces, however, many lack an understanding of where to start and how to make it happen. Mentoring schemes are an effective way to address this, facilitating the development of women into management positions. However, these schemes often exclude male mentors and solely rely on senior female mentors and this only side-steps the collaborative approach that is required to solve the problem.
In examples where women have been mentored by men in senior positions, greater opportunities have been made for both the individuals and the organisation through the sharing of different mindsets. The obvious route forward for organisations is not to solely focus on attracting more female talent, but to attract and retain a generally diverse pool of talent, not just in terms of gender but also in terms of race, background and experience.
Through a varied collective of individuals working together, approaching challenges from different angles and differing backgrounds, organisations can meet their objectives more efficiently and effectively. This can be achieved by creating training programmes that promote group activity and encourage collaboration.
Developing the collective
To inspire and support the development of female talent – or any talent that is underrepresented in the organisation’s leadership – organisations must cultivate pools of talent that can develop and grow together. But individuals must also be able to work towards their own goals based on their own individual objectives.
While e-learning is widely recognised as an appropriate solution for large, dispersed organisations to support employee training and development, many e-learning platforms simply offer a one-size fits all solution that only provides the opportunity for self-study without the opportunity for shared experiences through group sessions.
If organisations can provide their future leadership talent with blended solutions that provide elements of both selfstudy and face to face group learning, the talent pool can grow stronger through shared experiences, providing a support network that further inspires and supports the development of each individual. This is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that teaches us that individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self is enhanced through socially supported interactions.
By blending workshops with online training, there are greater opportunities for successful development through virtual sessions, peer coaching, selfstudy, online games and business simulations as well as one to one and group sessions. As well as being better for the employee, this approach enables organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to reflect technological advancement and changing market environments further positioning those who are currently under-represented as strong, capable leaders in an increasingly disruptive business landscape.
When it comes to inspiring women to become leaders in male dominated industries, rolling out development programmes that combine face to face training with mentoring schemes incorporating men in senior positions and opportunities for group activity are all positive ways to broaden an organisation’s pool of future leadership potential and succeed as a business.