It’s Different for Women: Access to Learning and Development in the Workplace
My career didn’t turn out like I planned.
I have an undergraduate degree in speech pathology and audiology. But after spending some time getting my Master’s degree, I decided to change my major to education in grad school. After a few years teaching, I realized that what I really wanted to do was help people develop and grow—which led me to business.
What’s remarkable about my career path is not that it’s unique, but rather how common it is.
In the 21stcentury, relatively few people stay in their planned career. This is not only because people—like me—choose to move in their careers, but also because change is forced upon us. These days, learned skills expire in about three years. If we don’t adapt and improve our skills as we work, our jobs could be automated in part or in full.
That’s why skills training has become such a critical part of the modern workforce. People who want to be mobile in their careers or build longevity into their careers need access to workplace training.
The company I work for, D2L, commissioned a study into learning and development (L&D) in the workplace. Specifically, we wanted to understand how L&D experiences in the workplace vary by gender. That’s not just something that’s “nice to know,” but rather a major driver of success.
We know companies in the top quartile of gender diversity outperform their more homogenous peers by more than 20 percent, so the issue of access to L&D is strategically important for companies that want to retain gender balance, and the competitive advantages it brings. Diverse companies are inherently more adaptable, and adaptability is key for companies looking to remain relevant in a time of workplace disruption. Companies that want to stay relevant and competitive in this changing landscape can do so by prioritizing diversity and ensuring equal access to training.
But that doesn’t appear to be happening. Our survey of 1,000 third-party U.S. office workers uncovered some significant differences in the way men and women are exposed to training at their companies. Broadly speaking, the data show that men are more aware they have access to training, are more likely to believe information is shared fairly, and are more satisfied with the training they receive.
More specifically, 56 percent of men say their company offers skills training compared to 42 percent of women. Men are more likely (73 percent) than women (55 percent) to believe the organization they work for shares subject matter expertise across teams effectively. As well, 75 percent of men are somewhat satisfied or better with their employer’s L&D program, versus 55 percent of women. And finally, 16 percent of women report having no access to a workplace L&D program versus 4 percent of male-identified people.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Men continue to dominate senior leadership positions at corporate organizations; just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. Part of the reason for this could be the lack of a viable training pipeline for female-identified executives. And again—because skills have such a short shelf-life—workplace L&D is critical. Companies need to do more to ensure training opportunities are available, and employees need to do their part to make sure they are receiving equal opportunities.
Tips to Consider
As someone in a senior position in a learning technology company, I often am asked: How would I advise young women entering the workplace today with regard to their L&D plans? Based on these statistics and my own experience, I would say the following:
Have a plan: While it might seem ironic coming from someone who changed her career aspirations early and often,my strong belief remains that it is important to have a solid plan and to be flexible to take advantage of opportunities as they come along.
Put up your hand: All of us—regardless of gender—need to be learning in the workplace.Few of us are going to stay in the exact same type of role for more than three to five years. So it’s important to ask leaders about learning opportunities. Women need to put up their hands and demand the kind of training that allows them to take on more responsibility or a different responsibility entirely.
Find a mentor: An important catalyst for women in leadership and throughout their careers is to find good mentors. Finding people in your career you can learn from, who believe in you, who can give you a little nudge when you need it—even when you think you don’t need it—is vitally important.
This last point cannot be overstated. Every woman leader I know today is in that position because someone early in their career believed in them. Someone gave them a boost. And someone encouraged them to push themselves.
I believe mentorship is one intangible in your career that you have control over at an individual level. All of us can find someone, align ourselves with someone, and stay in contact with someone who we can use as a sounding board for our careers. And my hope is that, in the years ahead, more of those mentors will be women and can be advocates for continual L&D in the workplace.
Koreen Pagano isVP of Corporate Product Management at online learning company D2L.