In 1968 the standing of women in the labor force was deteriorating to the point that President Lyndon B. Johnson described the under-utilization of women’s skills as “the most tragic and the most senseless waste of this century, a waste we can no longer afford.”
Forty years later, the outlook is quite the opposite. More than 1 billion women constitute nearly half of the global workforce today, and many are confident executives who embrace challenges to advance.
Six out of 10 female executives believe that their careers are successful or very successful, and 81 percent of these women take on additional responsibilities and complexity to advance their careers, according to a recent Accenture study, “Untapped Potential: Stretching Toward the Future,” which details findings from an online survey of 3,600 global business executives.
Nellie Borrero, director of global inclusion and diversity at Accenture, says that by seeking stretch opportunities, women are positioning themselves in the workplace today to stay relevant, add value, and therefore grow.
“Women who stretched themselves said that they enjoyed more success compared to those who didn’t,” Borrero says. “Stretching means that they would find opportunities through which they could learn a new skill or ask leaders for more responsibility.”
Women also reported slightly greater confidence in their professional skills and capabilities compared to their male colleagues. These skills include the ability to manage their workload and deadlines (70 percent), delegate tasks (68 percent), and negotiate (65 percent).
Borrero believes the high percentages are a result of companies effectively empowering their female executives to be confident in their high-level positions.
Patrick Sweeney, president of Caliper, an international management consultancy, concurs that women are more apt to seek out challenges.
“Women leaders are more open to taking risks than their male counterparts,” he says. “They are low on cautiousness and not driven by the rules.”
Another important finding in the Accenture study was the correlation between technology use and reported success. While 79 percent of respondents who identified themselves as “very successful” said that they rely on technology, 70 percent of men identified themselves as “innovators” or “early adopters” of technology, compared to 56 percent of women.
“Often, women executives have a different set of priorities from men and are pulled in many directions outside of the workplace, such as toward family commitments,” Borrero says. Organizations need to provide training for women within working hours so that they can adapt quickly to new technology, she adds.
Most female respondents noted the importance of mentor relationships for career advancement. However, Borrero was surprised to discover that only 14 percent of women stated that they actually had a formal mentor.
Borrero suggests several reasons for this discrepancy. Unless an official program is in place, most women will not ask for a mentor. However, most formal mentorship programs are too forced and are not effective. The ideal model would allow employees to volunteer themselves as mentors and provide professional profiles from which mentees can select mentors whose interests and goals match their own.
“Mentoring relationships are critical, but a mentor isn’t for life,” Borrero says. “Look at multiple people who can mentor you in different parts of your life, for your short-term goals.”
Sweeney adds that many aspiring female leaders are looking for mentors with whom they can establish an informal, personal connection, and they think they do not have enough hours in the day to establish such a relationship. They may also struggle to find a woman with the professional experience and expertise to fill a mentor role, since previous generations did not see as many women executives in the workplace.
Behavioral Self-Monitoring: A New Way to Transfer Training
By Nicole Gravina and Ryan Olson
Most exercise and diet programs encourage people to measure and record their progress over time. This same practice can be applied to promote and support the development of important workplace habits and skills.
Behavioral self-monitoring, which involves repeatedly observing, evaluating, and recording one’s own behavior, can help facilitate the transfer of training and encourage durable improvements over time.
The technique is widely used by clinical psychologists for clients who want to make changes, and is being applied in organizations. When used appropriately, behavioral self-monitoring may be a valuable tool for supporting transfer of training in the workplace.
In a recent ergonomics study, participants were trained on how to maintain an appropriate posture for office work. Work posture can be difficult to change when bad habits have been practiced for years.
A pre- and post-test indicated a statistically significant improvement in ergonomic knowledge after training; however, the participants did not use all of the safe behaviors they learned on the job until they were asked to self-monitor those behaviors.
A computer program periodically prompted them with a pop-up window to record whether or not they were in a proper position. After several sessions, the participants continued to self-monitor, and their improved postural performance was sustained over time.
Several best practices for implementing behavioral self-monitoring in the workplace can be derived from research; for example, offering employees a choice in target behaviors and setting participatory goals, establishing reminders for self-monitoring, and providing feedback and follow-up.
If possible, a trigger for self-monitoring should be planned, such as a reminder email or a timer to prompt learners to record behaviors. Employees can record each occurrence of behavior, a momentary sample of behavior when the trigger signal occurs, or an estimate of performance for a specified time span.
Users can self-monitor on paper or use a desktop or handheld computer with custom-designed software. Regardless of which method is adopted, it’s important for the procedure to be easy to complete to ensure its continued use. Implementing a self-monitoring activity after training requires feedback and follow-up to be effective.
Theoretical work suggests that it is important for people to chart their progress and observe discrepancies between current behaviors and goals. Trainers or supervisors meet in groups or individually to review data, celebrate successes, and discuss barriers to improvement.
Behavioral self-monitoring is not appropriate for supporting every type of training activity. It may be most useful for supporting training that encourages application of new skills or establishment of new habits that require deliberate effort.
Some trainers may worry that employees will not self-monitor accurately, but research suggests that this may not be as important as engaging in the process itself.
A well-designed monitoring exercise will remind employees to engage in the new skill learned during training, allow them to track their performance over time, and provide opportunities to discuss progress.
If a training program expects learners to apply new skills or establish new habits in the workplace, organizations should consider a well-organized self-monitoring exercise as a low-cost method for supporting transfer of training to the work environment.
Nicole Gravina is an assistant professor at Roosevelt University; firstname.lastname@example.org; Ryan Olson is an assistant scientist with Oregon Health and Science; email@example.com.
T+D May 09 // Work Life //
Closing the Generation Gap
By Michael Laff
Talking about generations might be a clever way to sell a book or a theory, but in today’s workplace, age is just a number, not a distinguishing trait.
A recent survey by AchieveGlobal indicates that most employees no longer classify themselves in terms of when they were born, if they ever did so.
The title of the report, “The Generational Divide: Crucial Consideration or Trivial Hype?” suggests that the value of evaluating workplace behaviors solely on the basis of age is losing appeal.
Researchers conclude that relying on superficial categories linked to demographics is a crutch that analysts from Sigmund Freud to Douglas Coupland (who coined the term “Generation X”) have used as a means to define their findings.
“Grouping people according to categories is no longer acceptable in the workplace,” says Craig Perrin, director of product design at AchieveGlobal. “Fifty years ago people categorized others by racial differences. Then it was ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus.’”
The study compared the four most identifiable age groups that many could rattle off by memory—Generation Y (under 29), Generation X (ages 30 to 44), baby boomers (ages 45 to 63), and traditionalists (over 64).
Participants were asked to assign value to a number of categories within the workplace, such as respect, recognition, and financial stability. Within most categories, the margin of difference between age groups was minimal, particularly in areas once believed to be influenced by an employee’s age.
Each age group values financial stability and new work experiences equally. The only category witnessing stark differences was one asking about the importance of opportunity for career advancement, which was directly related to one’s age. Older workers rated this category as the least important.
“The hype appears to be more perception than reality, observed through the tired lens of those looking from the outside in,” the report states.
Even some of the prevailing assumptions about what each generation values most are misguided. The traditionalists rated recognition as the most important value in their work life—an attribute most often attached to Generation Y workers.
“That turns the prevailing stereotype on its head,” Perrin says.
Stereotypes survive even when data should put them to rest because it is human nature to discuss perceived character traits (as they relate to demographics or other facets that individuals cannot control) as a convenient way to explain circumstances.
“If you have to find a category that is acceptable to talk about in the workplace, generations is the most innocuous,” he says. “People will get burned out by it, and something will replace it.”
Read more about training across generations in this months fundamentals: One for the Ages
T+D May 09 // Global Office //
By Michael Laff
A generation ago, when expatriate managers returned home, they unpacked their bags and stored their newly acquired global skills into a file cabinet.
After all, what use did the home office have for experience in an overseas satellite office? Now with global markets, organizations expect managers taking overseas postings to possess international experience before they head abroad. Personality becomes paramount, especially entering a country in which the manager has no first hand experience.
Personnel Decisions International surveyed managers in multiple countries to gauge the five personality traits judged to be most crucial to succeeding overseas. The traits of managers in various countries provided sharp contrasts. Western European countries such as Netherlands, Germany, and France are the most direct and unemotional, and place a lower priority on group harmony.
On the flip side, Saudi Arabia and Japan registered the highest level of concern for group harmony and sensitivity to words not expressed. Asian and European countries generally followed the pattern of their respective peers. Managers in China rated much more introverted than their counterparts elsewhere.
The purpose of the survey, according to Marc Sokol, senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, is to highlight cultural differences to heighten awareness, not as a means to compare cultures. Such awareness builds empathy in managers as they navigate a new culture.
Given the wide range of personality traits necessary for success in overseas assignments, organizations need to provide an aggressive training regimen to teach employees the cultural dos and don’ts along with an immersive language environment. Simply handing an employee a cultural “dummies” guide and a basic phrasebook for speaking with the locals won’t be enough.
“The cost of failure is very high,” says Sokol. “If you leave it to self-study, then you’re rolling the dice.”
To minimize risk, a lot of companies are choosing to send individuals overseas for shorter assignments, usually three to six months in duration. The employees do not bring their families with them and obviously do not sell their homes.
There is a four-stage process to acclimation with a foreign culture: awareness, empathy, bridging, and leveraging diversity.
While working in Britain for five years, Sokol had to learn the measure of understatement used by the British when speaking to co-workers. When a co-worker said he was “a bit frustrated,” that indicated a high level of frustration and was a warning signal, not simply a conversation starter.
“It’s like trying to explain what [Wizard of] Oz is,” he says. “By our second year in London we were able to explain to others what life is like there without knowing everything.”
Ironically enough, Sokol says that despite, and perhaps because of, the language similarity, the failure rate for expat employees in Britain is higher than in other countries where English is not the first language. A false sense of familiarity inhibits some expats from building networks quickly and overcoming initial cultural barriers.
Aside from diplomatic postings, Sokol says Royal Dutch Shell is a model organization for teaching employees how to get acclimated in a foreign country. Their managers receive deep immersion prior to placement overseas.
T+D May 09 // Fast Fact //
Staffing Agencies Shift Focus to Marketing During Downturn
TalentDrive released the results from a recent survey that investigated the tactics staffing agencies are employing to adjust to the current economic climate.
Among respondents, more than 58 percent of those surveyed reported implementing new services and re-positioning their company to attract new clientele. Fifty two percent of the agencies are investing in more marketing and in sales force increases as major strategic efforts.
The survey explored agency predictions for the hiring return and major concerns for 2009. Surprisingly, 57 percent predict the staffing decline will lighten by the end of the third quarter of 2009, returning to near-normal hiring conditions by fall.
A total of 65 percent of agencies believe the overabundance of resumes flooding the market and resume quality issues to be the two major concerns for 2009. As the talent pool continues to expand, firms are struggling with the quantity versus quality conundrum.
More than 7,500 agencies and recruiters were surveyed.
T+D May 09 // Info Graph //
Where Do You See Yourself Heading?
Blue Eskimo surveyed employees in the learning profession about their career aspirations. Most of the respondents reside in the United Kingdom. Survey respondents included employees from public and private sector companies.