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Are we closer to breaking the glass ceiling?

Gender diverse executive teams are 21 percent more likely to bring above-average profitability to organisations and companies with women on their boards of directors are more productive.

However, millions of women have left the workforce since the pandemic began.

When the pandemic emerged, its toll on women disrupted their advancement, leaving them to juggle managing their kids at home while simultaneously caring for elder family members. But the rise in acceptance and capacity for flexible work as a result of the pandemic is an important silver lining and a crucial component in female talent development and career advancement.

Advancing gender diversity and inclusion

The Great Resignation has brought on an epic war for talent. Women represent at least half of those at the top with high levels of IQ, emotional intelligence, creativity, and leadership skills, and countless studies confirm that companies with more women, especially in leadership positions, perform better. The power and performance of female leadership have been particularly visible during the pandemic, showing us that countries with women at the top have outperformed those led by men.

However, while most organisations understand the importance of advancing women into leadership roles, they may fail to recognise that there might be systemic barriers holding women back, resulting in women remaining disadvantaged at various stages of their employment and underrepresented in leadership positions. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace study, career advancement, rather than recruitment, is where many organisations need to target their efforts to further gender equity. While efforts to diversify the talent pipeline remain important, if companies are not able to develop and promote the women they hire, it will be very difficult for them to reach gender parity, or anything close to it, at senior levels.

In organisational cultures where extreme dedication to work is encouraged and top performers are those who respond to emails at all hours, taking advantage of work/life balance can carry a professional cost. Women working flexible schedules can be often seen as less committed and less motivated than those working standard hours, even if their actual performance is identical. Policies and procedures are important, but change is most importantly influenced by people. Leaders who are invested in fostering equality and enabling women to deliver results they are truly capable of, irrespective of their working hours and location will not only facilitate the female talent’s success but their own as well.

The route to the top

If remote work options are used predominantly by women while men remain mostly in the office accruing face time, there is a risk of work-from-home stigma. Therefore, it’s essential for leaders to understand that work is something we accomplish, not a place we go to, as well as consider new routines for communication that ensure equitable visibility in all work patterns.

In addition, the women who move up into leadership positions tend to be those who have had mentors and sponsors earlier in their careers. However, even women identified as high-potential talent, are less likely than their male peers to receive such sponsorship, and women of colour are at the greatest disadvantage. This imbalance requires leaders to actively support the careers of their female employees, and for male leaders to ensure that they aren’t mentoring only people who look like them.

When women and men don’t have equal opportunities to shine and grow, work itself becomes gendered. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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