A Change in Perception?

As International Women’s Day arrives, a Korn Ferry analysis finds four in ten women think firms still aren’t recruiting and developing them well enough for leadership roles. 

The disparities between women’s and men’s perceptions of the workplace may be narrowing—just not where it may matter most.

A new Korn Ferry analysis analyzing how women’s views on work have changed since the pandemic shows that they are just as engaged at work as men, and equally empowered to do their jobs well. Seven out of 10 women surveyed by Korn Ferry say they are engaged and enabled by their firms, the same percentage as men. And women and men both rate opportunities to achieve career goals as either the first or second most important factor driving engagement. But when it comes to how firms enable them to reach those goals, women feel very differently: “There are still notable differences in how women view the growth opportunities available to them compared with men,” says Valerie Dahan Cohen, a Korn Ferry director specializing in employee experience.

According to the analysis, the biggest gaps exist in areas that firms have struggled with for decades, such as advancement and retention. Only 63% of women say their companies are doing a good job recruiting and developing them for management and leadership roles—meaning roughly four in ten see an issue here. Among men, 76% think their firms are doing a good job. Mark Royal, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry specializing in employee engagement, says firms could close that gap by providing women with better access to education and to mentors who can help guide their careers. “Awareness and access to growth opportunities are areas where firms are still falling short,” he says. One potential obstacle to advancement opportunities for women, Royal notes, is unconscious bias on the part of managers and leaders. To be sure, only 45% of women (as opposed to 52% of men) believe promotions and assignments are made fairly.

One particular area that continues to negatively color women’s work experience is flexibility—or the lack thereof. During the pandemic, the disproportionate role they play in caregiving and other domestic responsibilities forced roughly 64 million women out of the workforce. And while women have recouped those losses since 2020—and even increased their workforce participation by an additional 1.5 million—their family responsibilities haven’t changed much. The result is that women view their firms’ work-life balance and flexibility less favorably than men do. More than 40% of women say the amount of work expected of them is unreasonable, for instance. Alina Polonskaia, global leader of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consulting practice at Korn Ferry, expects that figure to grow as more leaders push return-to-office mandates and adherence to traditional job structures. “It speaks to how women still don’t feel supported,” she says.

To be sure, the lack of support women perceive from their employers directly translates into how long they plan on staying with them. Women generally don’t plan to remain in their current roles as long as men do, but the gap is particularly acute in traditionally male-dominated industries. Only 60% of women in the oil-and-gas industry plan to stay in their roles for five years or more, for instance, compared with 68% of men. From consumer goods to industry to the public sector, fewer women than men expect to remain five years or more, with the gap ranging from as little as one percentage point to as many as eight.

If firms want to drive development and retention among women, Polonskaia says, they have to be more intentional about providing growth opportunities and flexibility for them. Or, as she puts it, “Women are saying, ‘If you value me, make work work for me.’”


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