27 September 2023

Train stationary: Is a gap in workplace training holding women back?

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Riia O’Donnell* says that in a recent study, men reported greater access to workplace training than women, pointing to another possible driver of the leadership gap.

As more employers look to advance women to management-level roles, a few are beginning to examine why the discrepancy exists in the first place.

Is unbalanced access to training to blame?

A recent survey from D2L focused on both access to and perceptions of corporate training.

Overall, worker responses in the survey suggest women are less aware of and less satisfied with opportunities for training within their organisation.

On average, 56 per cent of the men surveyed said their employer offered skills training, compared with only 42 per cent of women, and 73 per cent of men versus 55 per cent of women were satisfied with what their organisation had to offer.

Men consistently had more access to training for technical and soft skills, including adaptability, problem-solving and communication compared with women.

“There’s no question ongoing training is critical, not just for individuals but for organisations,” Jody Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group, said.

“For mandatory training, there should be no gender discrepancy.”

“Everyone should be trained.”

Watch your words

Another possible reason for the gap may be the way training opportunities are presented.

“Just as some language used in job descriptions can alienate and discourage women from applying,” reacHIRE CEO, Addie Swartz said, “it is important that employers carefully craft language describing training opportunities to ensure all training is welcoming to both genders and communicates the individual and collaborative benefit it will provide.”

Studies have shown that men tend to be more willing to take risks in competing for higher-paying jobs and negotiating bigger salaries, and that willingness extends to seizing training opportunities.

“In a very broad sense,” Mary Pharris, Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss, said, “men are stereotypically better at asking for what they want and advocating for themselves.”

Where’s the disconnect?

Miller posits one reason there may be a discrepancy is if training time is allocated during the workday.

For many women, accessing training after hours is not practical due to family obligations.

Employers which want to assure there’s a balance in who avails themselves of training need to make sure they’re not just offering training and letting employees figure out how to get it.

The message must be clear, Miller said: “Here’s the program; here’s why it’s important for your growth and the growth of the organisation, and here’s the time and resources you need to use it.”

Building in accountability

Since training is mission-critical for every organisation, Miller advises it should be tied to performance reviews — not just for the employee, but for their manager.

Managers should be reviewed on whether or not they’ve created and followed through on training goals for their direct reports.

“If you measure something,” Miller said, “it’s more likely to happen.”

Pharris believes it starts with leadership to make sure opportunities exist and are shared with employees.

Managers need to invest in the continued success of their team, and employees need to be vocal about what could help them become better team members.

The view from above

Formal training is important, but for many higher-up positions, peer-to-peer learning, stretch assignments and external opportunities, like serving on boards or participating in conferences are as, if not more, valuable to make that leap to the C-Suite, Miller said.

Swartz agreed: “For women, the ‘power of peers’ is critical.”

Organisations can create resource groups designed to give women more training and access to opportunities to share their successes and challenges.

“We have found that the cohort model of hiring, training and promoting is particularly empowering for women,” Swartz said.

She suggested organisations can also add diversity advocates tasked with monitoring processes like hiring, promotions and training to make sure a diverse slate of candidates and employees are represented.

“Building a culture that supports diversity, as well as ongoing learning and development, comes from the top,” Cheryl Ainoa, D2L’s COO said.

The CEO needs to be invested, supporting professional development programs that are tailored to the employee’s individual needs as well as filling in gaps that exist within the organisation.

Depending on the organisation’s size, a Chief Learning Officer could be responsible for ensuring relevant, effective and efficient learning opportunities are available and accessible for everyone, she added.

“Managers also need to share the available programs with everyone on their team,” she said, “even those who may not have expressed an interest.”

Running the numbers

Employers must evaluate strategies they are engaging in to cultivate female talent, and this includes access to training opportunities, Pharris said.

It’s important to have initiatives to reach gender parity and put them into practice.

Miller suggests focusing on your metrics.

Employers are looking at L&D data for engagement and retention levels and completion rates, but not noticing who’s signing up and who isn’t.

For courses that are skewed heavily male, it’s important to find out why women aren’t enrolling.

Formal or informal surveys should help reveal why there isn’t interest or participation.

Is availability the issue?

Has the value of the training been under-communicated to staff?

From here, an organisation can make adjustments to assure all training is accessible and of interest to all learners.

“Organisations that are diverse in terms of gender, race, age, professional background, etc., are inherently more flexible and adaptable,” Ainoa said.

“Those are precisely the qualities which will make for resilient employees and organisations in this new economy, and these organisations are also proven to have significantly better returns than their more homogeneous counterparts.”

* Riia O’Donnell is a HR professional and Contributing Editor at HR Dive.

This article first appeared at www.hrdive.com.

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