For the last hundred years, women in the developed world have been fighting for equality – from the suffragettes to the women’s liberation movement, to more recent calls to arms from strong and successful female leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg. You would think that, in the Millennial generation, there would be some traction from this movement that is now generations old, which would put men and women on an even footing in terms of their perceived ability and leadership styles.
Unfortunately, a recent report from Deloitte, which focuses on a massive 7,800 Millennials across 29 different countries – all with university-level education and in employment – suggests not.
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In the Deloitte survey, 64% of the male respondents asked stated that they would like to move into a senior position during their working lifetime. Only 57% of females asked agreed – a 7% gap which is significant. What is even more striking is the gap when men and women are asked about their desire to move into the ’top job’, and be the most senior executive in their organisation. Here there is a 12% gap between the genders.
Given that we know that companies, industries, and even governments are extremely concerned about the lack of female representation at board level of large publicly floated companies (there are only five women currently working as CEO of a FTSE 100 company in the UK), this is a disappointing statistic. Many businesses are working actively to recruit, identify and develop their young talent – with a specific brief to remove the barriers to progression that fall in the way of underrepresented groups (specifically, women and minorities). The survey results suggest that their work is not hitting the mark.
Different Perceived Strengths
One of the reasons that women do not express their desire to move into more senior roles may lie in their different assessments of their strengths upon graduation. Women emphasise their confidence in their behavioural, softer skills such as professionalism (45% of female respondents), flexibility (43%) and personal skills (40%) – basically, their ability to work hard, be part of a team, and show patience, maturity and integrity.
Men, it should be added, also rated these softer skills quite highly in terms of their strengths, suggesting their university experience did a good job in teaching the behavioural aspects needed to fit into working life.
Interestingly, women had more confidence in their academic abilities than men – with 43% of women stating this was a strength upon graduation as opposed to only 34% of men.
The real standout feature of this question was that men ranked their analytical skills, knowledge of IT and technology, and leadership far higher than women did. Male confidence in these classic business behaviours may account to a degree for the fact that their ambitions to move to a senior level still outstrip that of women; if young women upon graduation do not feel they have an ability as a leader, their ambition will be tailored to this self-perception.
Across the most telling point – whether or not respondents rated their leadership abilities as a strength, there was a global average of 6% more men than women agreeing. However, there were strong regional variations with some countries reporting as much as 20% fewer women citing their leadership as a strength. Perhaps women struggle to associate the skills and strengths that they agree that they have in professionalism, flexibility and personal skills with those of a leader. In a business world run by Millennials, these precise skills will surely become increasingly important when thinking about leadership.
The good news, perhaps, is that on a smaller scale, there were countries in which men and women ranked their perceived leadership abilities upon graduation equally (UK, Australia, and Columbia) – and even some large areas (South East Asia, Brazil, USA, and China) in which more women than men were happy to say that they had strong leadership abilities.
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Perhaps these women will lead the way for the global picture and help to continue to close the gender gap.