Career gains at risk for women in Europe, US, Mercer warns

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The FINANCIAL — The growth of women in the broad professional ranks of Europe’s leading employers is likely to stall in the years ahead, despite advances they have made in top executive roles, according to a preliminary report released today by the consulting group Mercer.

In 10 years, women who work in professional and more senior positions will make up 37% of those ranks—exactly the same proportion as in 2015, according to preliminary results in When Women Thrive, Mercer’s second annual report on the global outlook for participation, retention, and promotion of women in the workforce.

By comparison, the share of women in executive ranks in Europe will rise from 21% this year to 33% in 2025, the report projects, if organizations can maintain the momentum observed in the current year. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory is the corporate focus on hiring women at senior levels.

“Quotas in Europe have had a big impact in boosting female representation in senior roles,” said Julia Howes, Principal in Mercer’s Workforce Analytics practice. “But there’s a disturbing revolving door. While firms are focused on recruiting women at the top, it doesn’t appear they’re keeping them…and that could threaten the progress they’ve made, unless they act now.”

As the European workforce ages, it raises the possibility that more women will exit the job market to care for the growing elderly population, the report warns. “Leaders risk failing to develop enough qualified workers in Europe to deliver on economic growth,” says Patricia A. Milligan, Global Leader, When Women Thrive at Mercer.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Ms. Milligan. “Leaders should focus not only on getting women to the C-level, but on making sure their organizations have the pipeline of women to follow and maintain their progress with women’s representation.”

When Women Thrive shows a similar flattening of opportunity for women in the United States and Canada. Currently, 39% of positions at the professional level and above are held by women, a share that will rise by merely 1 percentage point by 2025, Mercer projects, unless organizations act to reduce differences between women and men in rates of hire, promotion, and retention.

By comparison, the share of executive level jobs held by women in North America will rise from 22% this year to 36% in 2025, Mercer projects. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory is greater equity between men and women in promotions to the executive rank, Mercer notes.

“At first glance, it looks like Europe and the US are making great progress,” says Brian Levine, Innovation Leader, Global Workforce Analytics at Mercer. “But there’s a weak link: many companies aren’t focused on ensuring there’s a pipeline of women, nor are they putting into place the supporting practices and cultural environment critical to success.”

Executive involvement, financial and wellness education for women

Among the key drivers of a successful diversity program, based on Mercer’s analytics, are engaged, executive leadership focused on diversity and educational programs tailored to women’s needs. The research finds that only 59% of leaders and 37% of men in European organizations are reported to be actively involved in diversity and inclusion activities (see  figure 2).

On the education front, only 7% of European organizations offer financial wellness tailored to women and 17% offer gender-specific health education, despite the fact that such programs help companies to recruit and retain women.

“If every CEO made diversity a top priority, not only would they positively impact their growth trajectory, but they would benefit their economies, communities, and individual families as a result,” says Ms. Milligan. “There’s no excuse anymore. Just as we’ve seen data and smart analytics drive improved outcomes on the health and investing fronts, so, too, can we drive progress on diversity. We’re doing it right now.”

The preliminary report—in advance of the release of the full global report in January—marks the one-year anniversary of the initial, 2014 When Women Thrive Report. The new report represents a tripling of participating organizations—nearly 600 corporations and organizations around the world, employing 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million women. The preliminary report was previewed in Brussels with diversity leaders and speakers from Ericsson, Lufthansa Group, Shell, and UBS.


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