Where Are We in Advancing Women’s Careers and What More Can We Do? 

female presenter group
By Libby Calderone

5 minutes

A pay and opportunity gap remains. To close it, your credit union can update policies, support managers and establish a mentorship program.

Career advancement has a ripple effect that can impact women’s quality of life. This advancement empowers financial independence, helps support work-life balance and fosters personal development. For credit unions, ensuring all employees receive the support they need to advance goes hand-in-hand with our industry’s mission of “financial well-being for all.” Despite this desire to advance our employees, research shows that women still lag behind men in both wages and leadership positions in the workplace. Combatting this inequality requires knowledge and understanding of what improvements have been made, what areas still need to be addressed and what solutions can be effectively applied.

Despite advances in gender wage disparities, Payscale shows an 18% gap remains. Parental status and unemployment contribute to this gap since women often receive lower salaries than men when they have children or take non-education breaks from the workforce. The data shows the gender wage gap is a challenge that still needs to be actively addressed. To tackle the wage gap, more companies are reviewing employee salaries and publishing salary reports internally to foster greater accountability.

Awareness of imbalances in pay is a good place to start, but wage improvement goes hand in hand with women’s advancement. Men tend to receive more promotions than women. At age 45 and older, more men (55%) have risen to leadership roles while only 40% of women have gained those opportunities, according to Payscale. This disparity begins at the manager level. According to McKinsey & Company, 87 women are promoted to manager positions for every 100 men. Steps that eliminate barriers to advancement and steady employment can go further to improve the wage gap and women’s quality of life.

Stereotypes Block the Advancement of Women

Gender stereotypes are consistently pinpointed as a substantial barrier to women’s advancement. Stereotypes about gender roles can result in women performing undervalued, supportive work that doesn’t give them opportunities to display their full talents or grow their leadership skills and networks. Stereotypes that women are more risk-averse than men can give employers pause when making promotion decisions; yet new studies are putting a fresh light on this accepted fact. According to Harvard Business Review, impact investment firms with higher numbers of women in top management roles exhibit greater risk-taking, suggesting women tend to take bigger “social risks” and push the envelope in areas of environmental, social and governance performance that have positive impacts on long-term financial performance. 

Even within leadership positions, stereotypes can foster negative attitudes and behavior toward women’s authority. According to McKinsey & Company, female leaders have their qualifications challenged more often than men and are two times more likely to have people assume they hold a lower-ranking position. 

While negative stereotyping can hinder women’s advancement, embracing and learning to value the different perspectives and skills women bring to leadership can help break down barriers. Characteristics like empathy and active listening skills, more common in women than men, bring benefits to the workplace. A study by Catalyst showed highly empathetic leadership leads to significantly higher levels of employee engagement and innovation as well as less burnout. Thus, women overall have the skills to inspire their teams, encourage employee well-being and enhance job satisfaction—all of which contribute to better productivity.

Action Steps to Take

Creating opportunities for women to advance requires taking deliberate and intentional steps that develop the women’s diverse skills and leadership qualities. So what can your credit union do? 

Start by creating policies that break down barriers. With women still handling most of the caretaking responsibilities at home, they need flexible, reliable hours to help keep their lives in balance. Flexible work options are becoming increasingly popular. A FlexJobs 2022 survey revealed that 87% of workers believe remote or hybrid jobs create more work-life balance, and more than half would seek new jobs if they were unable to work remotely. How can you build this flexibility at your credit union?

Whether in-office or remote, women need to have equal access to opportunities for professional development, networking and advancement. The credit union industry has many networking opportunities. Is your credit union providing access to them? Are you tracking who participates? Encouraging, and perhaps even requiring, participation in networking events will demonstrate your commitment to developing your female leaders. 

Managers also need support to understand how they can help employees advance their careers. The McKinsey & Company report shows 60% of HR leaders expect managers to help employees develop their careers but only 43% of women say their managers show interest in their advancement. Does your credit union provide training opportunities at the manager level? Are managers taking the time to develop employee career path strategies? Setting clear expectations and even including employee advancement in a manager’s review can hold managers accountable and empower them to open doors for women.

Mentorship programs with training and clear guidelines are important to women’s advancement. Mentors can be guides and advocates who take steps to help women access opportunities for networking and professional development as well as receive recognition for contributions. According to Forbes, women, particularly young women, tend to have less confidence than men of the same age and are less likely to apply for jobs or promotions where they don’t meet all the qualifications. As a cheerleader, a mentor can also encourage women to take risks and be bold when opportunities for promotion arise. Having a mentor can contribute to a woman’s advancement, but also being a mentor helps a woman grow and display leadership skills, giving mentorship a two-way benefit. 

If your credit union hasn’t already implemented a formal mentorship program, now might be a good time to consider it. Small credit unions might consider partnering with another credit union or local business. For larger credit unions, mentoring across business lines could serve as a cross-training function. 

Helping women advance requires proactive, deliberate engagement at all levels of your credit union. Executives need to set policies that encourage awareness, establish fair practices and support managers in implementing the day-to-day activities needed to put those policies into action. Seeking feedback about policies, actions and employee goals is important for managers and all levels of leadership. Even individual contributors need to be proactive, asking questions about available opportunities and speaking up about concerns. Women leaders have the qualities to bring out the best in their teams and foster an environment of innovation and growth.

Libby Calderone is president/COO of Envisant, a CUES Supplier member based in Naperville, Illinois. She is responsible for the growth and retention of Envisant’s business, as well as its future business strategy and enhancements, with the objective to help credit unions compete in a complex financial marketplace. Before joining the ICU System in 2018, she served as CEO/president of Earthmover Credit Union in Aurora, Illinois. Calderone’s long-term industry experience, which began in 1987, has given her a great appreciation for the positive effect credit unions have, not only within the local communities they serve but also the larger population. She is a former member of the Envisant board of directors, a former chair of the supervisory committee of Alloya Corporate Federal Credit Union, the current board chair for American Share Insurance and a graduate of the University of Illinois.

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