Many studies have shown that the representation of women in the senior ranks has been virtually unchanged for years, despite considerable organizational investment in talent management systems. Because leadership development begins early in careers, could inequality in development opportunities explain the gender gap that also emerges so early?
To answer this, the most recent Catalyst research analyzed responses from 1,660 high potentials (PDF) about the myriad ways they are developed to become future leaders, including formal development programs and on-the-job experiences that build skills and demonstrate competency. Based on this data, we have determined which experiences predict advancement and where organizations may be unwittingly creating leaks in their pipeline.
In the 70/20/10 model, scholars contend that 70% of development happens on the job, 20% happens through critical relationships, and only 10% occurs through formal training programs. Our current research on leadership development supports this model. We found that big roles — more than formal programs — were the game changers when it comes to career advancement. High potentials got ahead further and faster when they worked on highly visible projects, held mission-critical roles, and took international assignments.
Among the high potentials whose careers we have been following, men got more of the game-changing experiences that ultimately predicted advancement than women did. The projects men reported working on had budgets that were more than twice that of women’s projects and more than three times as many employees staffed to them. In addition, about one third of men reported getting C-suite visibility to a very great extent while working on projects compared to only one quarter of women. And men felt their projects involved a higher level of risk to their companies than did women.
Men also had greater access to mission-critical roles than women. More men than women held positions involving:
- Profit and loss responsibility (56% of men, 46% of women).
- Management of direct reports (77% of men, 70% of women).
- Budget responsibility of greater than $10 million (30% of men, 22% of women).
- More men worked on global teams requiring extensive travel without relocation (88% of men, 77% of women).
- More men had international relocations (28% of men, 17% of women).
- Get an international assignment (23% of men, 14% of women).
- Receive profit and loss responsibility (13% of men, 7% of women).
- Have their budget oversight increased by 20% or more (22% of men, 15% of women).
- Receive a promotion within a year (51% of men, 37% of women).