Is there a gender training gap?


In a recent study, men reported greater access to training for technical skills and soft skills compared to women — which points to one possible driver of the leadership gap.

As more companies look to advance women to management-level roles, a few are beginning to examine why the discrepancy exists in the first place. Only 5% of the Fortune 500 are led by women — a stunning statistic in today’s diversity-oriented market. 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 opportunities for training and less satisfied with the opportunities that exist within their company. On average, 56% of the men surveyed said their company offered skills training, compared to only 42% of women, and 73% of men versus 55% of women were satisfied with what their company had to offer.

When broken down by categories, such as access to online platforms or workplace L&D training, the imbalance continues. Men consistently had more access to training for technical skills and soft skills, including adaptability, problem solving and communication in comparison to women.

“In most cases, this discrepancy probably isn’t intentional,” Cheryl Ainoa, D2L’s COO, told HR Dive via email. She pointed to studies that show men will apply for a job knowing they only have 60% of the qualifications required, while women will likely only apply if they believe they are 100% qualified; similar results occur when men and women ask for a raise or a new opportunity.

“As such,” Ainoa said, “male workers may be more top of mind when managers think of providing new opportunities to their employees. The unintended result is that women are not exposed to training and development programs at the same rate, regardless of how qualified they are.”

HR Dive also spoke with Jody Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group, about training and gender discrepancies. “The truth is there’s no question ongoing training is critical, not just for individuals but for companies,” she 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 told HR Dive in an email, “it is important that businesses 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.”

Other 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 & partnerships at Fairygodboss, told HR Dive in an email, “men are stereotypically better about asking for what they want and advocating for themselves; though, I believe we’re seeing that change when it comes to women in the workplace.”

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. Companies that 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: “Here’s the program,” Miller said, “here’s why it’s important for your growth and the growth of the company, and here’s the time and resources you need to use it.”

Building in accountability
Since training is mission-critical for every business, 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.

“There also needs to be an understanding between managers and direct reports to talk about professional development and what opportunities are available,” she said. 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.” Companies 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 companies can also add diversity advocates tasked with monitoring company processes like hiring, promotions and training to make sure a diverse slate of candidates and employees are represented and opportunities are accessible to all.

“Building a culture that supports diversity, as well as ongoing learning and development, comes from the top,” Ainoa 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 organization. Depending on the organization’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. This circles back to building a strong corporate pipeline and showcasing benefits and opportunities for your workforce, she noted.

Miller suggests focusing on your metrics. Companies 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, a business can make adjustments to assure all training is accessible and of interest to all learners.

“Companies 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 companies in this new economy, and these companies are also proven to have significantly better returns than their more homogeneous counterparts.”


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