Minding the gap

In a 2010 World Economic Forum report on corporate practices for gender diversity in 20 countries, 59 per cent of companies surveyed said they offer mentoring and networking programmes, and 28 per cent said they have women-specific programmes.

But not all mentoring programmes are equal. A 2008 Catalyst survey of some 4,000 working men and women, all identified as high-potential MBA students who graduated between 1996 and 2007, shows women are paid $4,600 less in their first job post-graduation, and that gap simply widens with time.

A Harvard Business Review article in September 2010 by Herminia Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva pointed to different emphases in the way that male and female mentees were treated. Male mentors of male mentees tended to see their role as sponsors – pushing their mentees forward within the organisation and generally rooting for them. Female mentees (irrespective of the gender of the mentor) tended to be supported, but not pushed in quite the same way.

In 2007, PwC, the audit and advisory firm, decided they needed to do something about the fact that although women comprised 49 per cent of the company’s UK workforce, they represented just 13 per cent of partners.

In-depth research showed that the problem was not in women’s retention rates but in those at which women were promoted compared with men.

The Women’s Leadership Programme was established to provide a male sponsor for each participant to support their career development. This sponsorship was a two-way street: not only were women to be challenged and encouraged to pursue their career development more pro-actively, but a key objective was to raise the “gender intelligence” of senior sponsors by enabling them to see the organisation through female eyes.

“We know that six people with different ideas are more valuable than 60 people who all think the same,” says Sarah Churchman, director of diversity at PwC. “We need to grow the number of female partners to ensure that our talented staff have more role models to strengthen their aspirations for partnership.”

PwC launched a pilot of the programme in 2008 and as a result, 20 per cent of new partners in the advisory partnership (which admitted no women in the previous two years) were women. “All had taken part in the WLP pilot programme. In 2009, a further 25 per cent of new advisory partners were women, and this had an impact on overall partner admissions,” Dale Meikle, senior manager in PwC’s global diversity and inclusion division, says. “Prior to the programme, 13 per cent of new partners in the UK were women; following the programme 29 per cent of new partners in the UK were women.”

Now the UK board is rolling out the programme across the company. But in spite of these recent endeavours, only 15 per cent of PwC partners are women.

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