Progression and Promotion

Progression and Promotion

Best people

The most successful organisations make the best use of their most valuable resource – their people.

Addressing barriers to women's under-representation at senior level means that the most skilled and talented people are in key decision-making roles. Diverse management teams also enable businesses to predict more accurately the needs and wants of their customers.

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What to think about when developing training

When providing training opportunities, it is important to ensure that opportunities are available to all staff.

  • Training, development and qualification opportunities must be open to all, including those who work part-time, job share, or work flexibly.
  • Schedule training, learning events and team meetings to ensure that all staff can attend, if they want to.
  • Avoid holding training events or team building opportunities after work hours or at weekends, wherever possible. Staff with caring responsibilities may find these difficult to attend.
If a training event conflicts with a staff member’s caring arrangements, consider:
  • Rescheduling the event
  • Adjusting the staff member’s hours
  • Paying the childcare or other care costs
  • Provide payment or time off in lieu for any extra hours required to attend training

Flexible learning can benefit all staff but particularly those working part-time or those on maternity leave.

Open University courses, distance learning or online learning enable training to be undertaken flexibly. Pressure on budgets can mean that online training is a good option for smaller businesses. Allowing staff the time and resources to complete online training during working hours means that all staff will be able to participate.

Part-time, low-paid women are often the group of workers least likely to be offered training opportunities in the workplace, but they are also the most likely to be working below their skill level. It makes good business sense to ensure that all staff have an equal opportunity to develop and utilise their skills.

The "glass ceiling"

Women tend to work at more junior grades than men across all sectors, and are likely to be found clustered in the bottom grades of most companies. The invisible barrier that prevents women from progressing to senior levels, despite seemingly fair recruitment and promotion procedures, is called the ‘glass ceiling’.

Women can be discouraged from applying for promoted posts for a number of reasons, including:

  • a culture of ‘presenteeism’ which wrongly equate long hours with excellence;
  • the presence of so-called ‘old boys networks’ which leave women without access to informal mentoring opportunities that men have;
  • a perceived lack of work-life balance at senior levels;
  • a lack of senior female role models; and
  • recruitment and selection processes that lack transparency.

Employers often find that they have two glass ceilings: one below senior management, and one above senior administration workers.


There is overwhelming evidence that a long hours culture, or ‘presenteesim’ can be harmful to both staff and productivity.

Many women perceive that promoted positions will require a significant increase in hours spent at the office. This which can be challenging for staff with caring responsibilities and acts as a disincentive to women applying for senior jobs.

Developing flexible working practices can help staff work smarter rather than longer.

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On-the-job training

Companies with well-skilled and trained staff have a much better chance of succeeding in business. Training or development does not necessarily involve sending an employee to an off-site event or course.

Examples of alternatives to formal training:

  • Buddying an employee with a colleague to ensure necessary support in the early stages of their development so they can build confidence while new skills are learned.
  • Guidelines, online modules or instruction handbooks are useful tools for learning on a flexible basis.
  • Line managers have a key role in coaching staff and helping them learn the necessary skills for the job.


Many women struggle to access informal work networks, particularly those that are based on after-work socialising.

Networking events that require participation in an activity stereotypically seen as male, such as golf or football, may function as a barrier to female staff. By supporting female staff to participate in women-only networks, you can help to build cross-company relationships, emphasise that your business values difference, and help drive cultural change.

Case study: WiRES

Women in Renewable Energy Scotland (WiRES) is a network for women working in renewable energy whose members come from a range of occupations and sectors across the industry. WiRES provides networking event, site visits and personal development sessions for members. WiRES also runs a mentoring programme to support women's progression in the sector.


The under-representation of women in senior positions means that there are often few visible role models for women at the start of their career. For many women, mentoring provides the ideal space to learn from someone who understands the particular challenges to women in the workplace. such as balancing their career and family life, or developing a career plan.

Mentoring is a personal development tool which is an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers. It is a partnership between two people (mentor and mentee) normally working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences.

A mentor is a guide who can help the mentee to find the right direction and who can help them to develop solutions to career issues. A structured formal programme would usually provide training and guidance for both potential mentors and mentees to ensure expectations are realistic and achievable. However, it can also be a more informal arrangement between senior colleagues and junior. It is a valuable way to help people develop and progress within a company.

Case Study: Michelle

Michelle and Jim work in the sales team of a telecommunications company. Michelle has worked there for five years, and Jim started 18 months ago. Michelle has to leave the office at 4.45pm to pick up her son from nursery. Stan, the Sales Director, is usually in the office until after 7pm. In the last few months, Michelle has noticed that Jim has been staying on late at work too.

Stan announces at the next team meeting that he has promoted Jim to Team Leader and will now head up the Sales Team. Michelle is shocked as she has more experience and a better sales record than Jim. She decides to confront Stan to ask whether she had been considered for the role. Stan says he knows she has a lot on her plate with looking after her son and thought it might be too much pressure for her. Stan said Jim had proved himself over the past few months by staying late and helping him out with the sales strategy.

Michelle is frustrated and feels that although Jim might be good in the new role, it was unfair not to give her a chance as well. Michelle feels the decision was based on Stan’s perception of commitment to the company. Michelle soon leaves to work at a competitor company which operates a flexible working environment.

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