My last CPACA blog introduced a discussion about the advancement of women. This blog is a continuation and puts the focus on one element from my last post: the lack of access to career development and advocacy. This issue is not very well understood in the industry. It is however one of the most important things to pay attention to if we care about future growth and sustainability. The issue of advocacy is often subtle and requires a close look at how individuals move through the organization. How do they advance? How are they visible? What is considered an increase in value delivered that puts one on “the map”. Many of the subtle but essential rules about how one advances in an organization are real but unwritten. As a result, it is critical that each individual, and especially our high potential talent, have a guide in this journey of navigation. So why is this about women in accounting?
Guidance and advocacy in the skill development and career advancement process is often missing for emerging female leaders. This is not because men are leaving them out deliberately or even consciously. In most organizations men are still in all or most of the positions of influence and power. Men are in most of the positions that represent deep knowledge of the unwritten rules. As humans, we often reach out to those who remind us of ourselves. Those we identify with. This is also true of natural mentor and protégé relationships. In many cases, senior leaders who are male, reach out to younger males as protégés. When asked, senior male leaders are often not consciously aware they are behaving in this manner. When the question of why more emerging female leaders are not in their circle they often will say that they do not feel they can be a mentor to women, do not understand how to communicate or how do deal with specific issues such as career-life conflicts or female styles of leadership. In addition, networking events such as sports events or male bonding events such as “heading out for a drink” after work are often uncomfortable venues for senior male leaders and female protégés. Many senior male leaders have shared with me that they are also concerned others will assume inappropriate conclusions about mentoring relationships. These concerns all impact how many women have access to senior leadership in their organizations.
Moving through an organization seeking advancement is a very real journey. This journey is one that requires a map, navigator or guide. It is also one that requires advocacy. As women we must think about what experiences we need to have to increase our skill level, or said another way, our balance sheet of talent. We must first understand what the organization is looking for in its leaders. A guide – mentor- helps us understand if we are on track. Once we know what we should be engaged in, we are not always in a position to acquire access to these experiences. In some cases, it is nearly impossible to broker such things as committee assignments, overseas promotions, and profit and loss responsibility on our own. Advocacy from those in positions of influence is required. Many emerging male leaders have mentors in senior leadership roles advocating on their behalf. Many emerging female leaders do not. This fact slows the progress of female leaders. It creates real difference, not only in the opportunities that women have access to but also real difference in their learning and skill development. Real difference in the experiences they are having every day. When we hear that there were no qualified female candidates for promotion it is sometimes true. Not because women are not as capable, but because the female candidates have not had the experiences needed to qualify them for the role. We do not often pause to think about how individuals gained access to certain opportunities.
What can we do as individuals and organizations? As individual female leaders we need to know that there is information we do not have and we must form relationships in senior levels to access this information. It can be difficult but it is essential. The good news is that we can get this information from multiple relationships and sources, and in fact we should. How hard we work and the quality of our work is not the only thing that matters. Is it the price of entry? We need to know if we are doing the right things at the right time in our career and if the right people know we are doing these things. The “right things” are those things recognized as having high value to the organization.
Organizations that understand all of the above take a hard look at their assignment, promotion and advocacy processes. Uneven access to senior leadership can be addressed through awareness raising, sponsor programming and improved promotion processes.
About the Author
Mary L Bennett at www.Mlbennettconsulting.com
Mary is an experienced leader in the public accounting profession. Mary spent over twenty years with a top ten global firm where she served as a partner leading office locations, niche practices and large client engagements in a variety of technical areas. Mary is now an Organizational Development consultant to accounting firms of all sizes and specializes in Leadership Development, Diversity, Succession Planning and many other areas of OD. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter: mbennettwil