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Executive advice: Break down career barriers for women

subriana pierce

To keep women from leaving their jobs, companies must do a better job of supporting them through their personal and professional pivot points, NEW President & CEO Sarah Alter told attendees during the NEW Pivots, NEW Solutions Executive Leadership Session at the NEW Summit.

Alter and Subriana Pierce, managing partner, Navigator Sales & Marketing, engaged executives in a discussion of workplace barriers to women’s success, including bias, isolation, lack of support and work/life challenges. Attendees also discussed life- and career-changing pivot points, such as motherhood, illness, relocation, extensive travel, care-taking of elderly parents, downsizing and other experiences when women make tough decisions that can change the trajectory of their careers.

“We know, from countless studies and our own experience, leadership teams that are more gender equal and inclusive are stronger and more successful,” Alter said. “But our workplace cultures are driving women out.”

“We know that corporate cultures that value their employees’ lives outside of work are setting them up for success at work,” she added. “But most companies do not offer work arrangements that meet the demands of home life.”

Only 60 percent of the women and men responding to a NEW survey last year said they have work/life balance. “Does your company offer programs that support better work/life integration — flex-time or job-sharing or sabbaticals or effective on-ramping and off-ramping? And if they do, do they go unused because the unspoken message being sent is ‘People who use these programs are not committed to their jobs.’”

Pierce shared her own experiences during career pivot points, including a 2010 career move to the West Coast, where she and her family where the first black family to move into the neighborhood. During another career move, she was put into a role with no training and made the mistake of not asking for it. “I was thrown into the role and needed to figure out what to do. I didn’t raise my hand and ask for the training, even though my boss would have said “Yes,’ in a second.”

Pierce also facilitated a share-out, during which executives shared other career barriers that women face:

  • Women are “allowed” a limited number of positions on a team or at a level. “Women think, well I can’t do that role, because there are already 1 or 2 women in the room,” one woman executive said.
  •  Compensation
  • No clear definition of what success looks like – and not everyone held to the same standard
  • Feeling you’ve hit the ceiling and not knowing how to get to the next level.
  • Lack of encouragement to take on a new role

“You don’t know what’s being said about you in the room [where decisions are made],” Pierce said. “You may think you’re way off the track, but you don’t really know how you are perceived. You don’t know who’s in that room, who is talking about you, and who is else in that room.”