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McKinsey: Improve Training for Female Execs

The latest edition of McKinsey Quarterly will be officially unveiled this week at a "Women in the Economy" conference in Florida, a fitting venue for what will likely be the conference's central theme: advancement, or the lack thereof, of women to top executive positions. According to the Wall Street Journal, McKinsey's latest offering indentifies insufficient training and inattentive career development as the major contributors to the dearth of female executives worldwide.

While this time out the firm outsourced some of its research efforts (Catalyst, a non-profit research group that tracks women in business did most of the surveying), this McKinsey report doesn't disappoint in terms of insightful data.

For example, a key finding: only 11 Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, down from 15 in 2010 (an all-time high).

That discouraging reality is an improvement from 1995 (1 female CEO) and 2000 (2 female CEOs), but it obviously reflects the persistent discrepancy at the top of the business food chain. At lower levels of management women enjoy more success, the authors say, though they still fall far behind their male counterparts. 37 percent of lower-level and middle managers are female, the report asserts, compared to just 26 percent of vice presidential/senior management roles at Fortune 500 corporations.

The report also comes with a healthy dose of world-famous McKinsey analysis. The authors explain the across-the-board discrepancies by identifying two key deficiencies that affect women more than men: a lack of training and a lack of quality career development.

The two are related, of course. As for training, McKinsey suggests that women would benefit from more targeted leadership training and gain as much hands-on experience as possible for seizing the reins of a top level management position. Robust official training programs will help funnel female employees into senior roles and encourage more to follow in their path. It can also help place women on management tracks early, the report says, before mid-career burnouts strike (McKinsey says that only 64 percent of middle-aged women "expressed a desire to advance professionally" compared with 92 percent in the 23-34 range).

The prevalence of this burnout among females could be explained by outside pressures like motherhood, the McKinsey consultants suggest. Talented women deserve more attention internally, the report says; a bit of flexibility and cooperation can be the difference between a high-flying management career and one on the dead-end "mommy track." But companies aren't "systematically watching these women at the middle management level," McKinsey says, "and putting in programs that would help them develop and get over the next [promotion] hurdle." Without these support systems in place, "barriers become insurmountable" for working mothers and companies can forfeit some of their best talent.

McKinsey is no stranger to good, comprehensive training. This year, the firm rests upon its familiar perch atop our Formal Training rankings, with a development portfolio that its own consultants have called "impressive and exhaustive" and "simply the best anywhere."

Sam Reynolds is Vault's consulting editor. He covers the latest news and trends affecting the consulting industry on Consult THIS, Vault's consulting careers blog. Formerly a newspaper writer and reporter, Sam graduated from the College of Charleston with a BA in English. Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com