Powering Women at Work

Women's Representation in Shared Services Jobs

We are all very familiar with the typical issues raised regarding gender bias in the workplace – lack of women in leadership positions; lack of equal pay between women and men (even though it's 2018!); sexual harassment in the spotlight with the viral #MeToo campaign; and unfair practices and discrimination that are still very much prevalent in multiple countries and industries.

Over the years, there have been various social issues raised (not limited to gender) that exist in organizations and the workplace. One of these predicaments I would like to bring up is the lack of female leaders in Shared Services. I still remember sometime last year at a Shared Services conference where I was chatting with a female Shared Services center (SSC) head, discussing key points that a speaker had brought up. She made a passing remark about how she had not seen a single female Shared Services leader presenting on stage over the past two days. The statement struck a chord with me... how could this be? I know of, and have spoken to, many great women in Shared Services and yet, the lack of representation, in this case, is worrying.

Woman/Men ratio in SSOs 

In the recent SSON annual Shared Services survey, more than 620 Shared Services practitioners from around the world participated. One of the questions we asked concerned the gender breakdown within their centers. What we found was that 44% of the respondents employ more women than men, and 31% engage an equal number of women and men.

With such a significant representation of women in the Shared Services industry, why does the gender imbalance in leadership positions still exist? (Based on an analysis of Shared Services roles taken from LinkedIn, men are 3 times more likely to hold positions such as ‘Directors’, ‘Head of Centers’ and ‘Chiefs’ in comparison to women – see table below.) And what are some things that we can do to provide better career opportunities and remove the invisible barriers that are present for women in Shared Services?

women/men leadership roles SSOs

There has been tons of research on women in leadership but here are a few main points that I would like to raise: 

1) Women are not given equal opportunities due to familial responsibilities and organization bias

Women are often perceived as the primary caretakers in their families (e.g. taking care of their young children, the elderly, managing the household etc.). With this traditional mindset etched in the minds of many, it is not surprising that there still exists an organization bias that women do not aspire to take on leadership roles and would say no to growth opportunities and exposure. Familial responsibilities outside the workplace are often equated to an unwillingness to commit enough time, and lack of mobility.

What’s inherently wrong with this bias thought process is that a) the organization should not assume and strike off an important career decision for a female employee without consulting her, and b) familial responsibilities should not be automatically seen as a liability to one’s work performance.

2) Instead of overlooking women, organizations should provide the appropriate support. With education, the right culture and systems, we can nurture more female leaders and bring about more diversity and progress.

Women leaders are known to have different sets of skills and strengths that would complement male colleagues, such as responsibility, empathy, hard workers, team players – and they like a challenge.

Suggestions on what Shared Services organizations can do:

a) Having flexible working arrangement and planning ahead of time. For example, having flexi-blocks (i.e. 8 am - 12 pm, 4 pm - 8 pm, 6 pm - 10 pm) that have been pre-agreed. The essential point here is to allow women to plan their various familial and work responsibilities. Unpredictability can be a stumbling block and cause a considerable amount of stress if clashes in schedules occur.

b) More importantly, it is crucial for higher management and colleagues alike to be well educated about equality and embrace diversity in the workplace to prevent assumptions and discriminations from happening. Everyone is different and may have different priorities in life. It is necessary for organizations to understand their employees and support them. For women who can juggle both work and familial demands, organizations should act as a helping hand to achieve their career aspirations instead of putting them down. 

Although there’s still progress to be made in closing the widening career gap between men and women, I believe it is possible, with proper education and an open mind. We hope to see more female leaders in Shared Services in years to come.

SSON Analytics will be publishing an interactive report focusing on Shared Services talent in February 2018. Please stay tuned. For more HR & Talent related reports, visit:https://www.sson-analytics.com/hr

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