Can Apprenticeships Fill Missing Middle in Management

Written by Hannah Campbell Monday 06 March 2017

The UK will need 1.5 million new female managers to close the gender gap in middle and senior management by 2024. Currently 73% of junior managers are female but only 41% in middle management; CMI have names this ‘The Missing Middle, as women fail to reach middle management and above. All FTSE 100, finally, have at least 1 female board member but many organisations have no female representation. However, it makes business sense to have gender parity. Credit Suisse reported that those organisations with gender balance in management saw an 18% rise in ROI premium and McKinsey reports that those companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.

Traditionally, the view has been that women leave the workplace to have a family as men’s careers begin to thrive and therefore they never catch up, even if they do return to work. However, in 2015 Price Waterhouse Cooper surveyed 8756 female ‘millennials’* worldwide about their careers. They found the top reason for leaving a job role was a lack of career opportunities with the least being to raise a family. Moreover, 34% of millennial females with 9+ years’ experience are paid more than their male partners. But why has this shift not lead to increase in female managers?

The Harvard Business Review ‘Why Men still get more Promotions’ reports through statistics and case studies that it is the male dominated management structures that continue to fuel the gender gap. Male managers tend to have an unconscious bias of promoting men over women. It is documented that male mentor’s fail to sponsor women for promotion, as they do for their male counterparts, as well as mentor, as they do not understand why females are reluctant to show what men perceive to be key leaderships qualities, assertiveness, authority and dominance, as women view these as unattractive and consequently, inauthentic to display. This cocktail of bias and perception in both genders begins to explain why there has been little increase in women in management despite legislation, positive discrimination and organisations spending vast sums of money and time to try and fill ’the missing middle’.

In nearly all companies and organisations, the mechanism for promotion is now results, as they move away from promoting people who last the longest! By upskilling employees, results are more quickly obtainable. Corporate, traditional training tends to focus on one area of development at a time, be it technical or soft skills, academic knowledge or personal development, through various methods, from classroom to e-learning to coaching. However, to create a marked change in any situation, new solutions must be created.

‘It’s not enough to identify and instil the “right” skills and competencies as if in a social vacuum. The context must support a woman’s motivation to lead and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current generation of senior executives.’ (Women Rising; The Unseen Barriers)

The new apprenticeship standards have a holistic approach to learning and therefore may be a significant part of the answer. Each has been broken down into three criteria; Knowledge, Skills and Behaviour. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on on-going mentoring and support system both internally and from the apprenticeship provider.

The Management apprenticeships are flexible to enable the content to be tailored to the organisation and allows the learner to use the role they are in as the case study in each piece of work or assessment. Meaning, that the work they do within the programme has immediate worth and impact in the workplace. Both the level 3 Team Leader / Supervisor and level 5 Operational / Departmental Manager creates an ideal, clear and objective progression route, based on results. Mentoring throughout the 12 – 30 month programmes will improve confidence to utilise leadership techniques in an apprentice’s team.  Developing knowledge, skills and behaviours in the context of management gives aspiring female managers a toolbox of leadership styles and the ability to command each in the right context. As an added consequence, a higher skilled female employee will be more productive, even if in the future they choose to work part-time to balance their family life. The introduction of job-shares means that it is now possible to continue for women to progress even when not working full time and the organisation is not under-resourced because of it.

However, it is important to realise that to ensure gender parity, male colleagues and managers must also be educated to prevent unconscious bias affecting their decision making. As part of the support The Knowledge Academy offers organisations, we train internal mentors in how best to support and sponsor all apprentices, regardless of gender but with regard to the diversity that being an individual brings.

At a strategic level there has to be a culture of gender parity. Through understanding the benefits of equal representation across all roles and seniority, the strengths of both genders can be realised. But, with men still holding the predominance of senior positons, there must be a concerted effort by organisations to understand and promote the benefits of women in management, to ensure their progression and promotion and finally, the removal of the glass ceiling. Highly trained and competent women deserve to be at the top, and to thrive, grow and be the best, organisations need them there.

*a millennial is defined as being born between 1980 - 1995


Hannah Campbell

Hannah Campbell

Hannah Campbell is the Apprenticeships & Training Manager at The Knowledge Academy. The Knowledge Academy provides certified training courses in over 230 countries and over 1000 locations.