Leaders in a Global Economy

Talent management in European cultures.

December 18, 2008
from Catalyst

Chief executive officers of companies around the world are increasingly concerned about managing new economic realities and tackling talent issues. Global shifts in the labor force participation rates of women, rapid changes in international competition, and demands for more inclusive workplaces have redefined what companies once described as “effective” talent management. This is especially true in different regions of Europe where companies face a host of evolving social, political, economic, and organizational forces that directly and indirectly impact the management of employees.

Previous studies in the Leaders in a Global Economy series, produced by Catalyst and the Families and Work Institute, revealed few differences between what women and men value on aspects of work that drive engagement and productivity, such as access to challenging work, supportive workplace cultures, and good work-life fit. To explore how the vastly different workplace realities experienced by women and men could be explained, in Leaders in a Global Economy: Talent Management in European Cultures we investigated senior and pipeline leaders from European cultures. Why is there an absence of good fit or alignment between work values and women’s jobs and workplaces? The answer for women is systemic barriers to career advancement get in the way.

Systemic Barriers Affect Women

Women leaders are more likely than men leaders to report that they had experienced barriers to advancement. Regardless of their leadership level, age or region, women rated the following barriers as more limiting to their career advancement than men did:

  • Lack of or limited access to sponsors, champions and/or mentors.
  • Few role models.
  • Limited access to job opportunities.

Regardless of gender, pipeline leaders reported more obstacles to career advancement than did senior leaders, except for lacking role models. Women respondents in each age group reported significantly greater career limitation from lacking role models than men did. Furthermore, women 31 years to 40 years were more likely to report that they lacked role models than women 30 years or younger. Women leaders ages 31 years to 40 years and women over age 40 perceived greater limitations to career advancement than men of their respective age groups. Finally, women leaders in all regions reported experiencing higher career limitations from a lack of role models than men.

Talent Management Practices Can Help

However, the substantial barriers to advancement can be reduced significantly through the use of powerful talent management practices. The report showed that several barriers to workplace advancement can be reduced when leaders:

  • Receive constructive, candid, challenging feedback.
  • Perceive fair and just decision-making in promotion decisions and allocation of work assignments.
  • Are provided with line of sight — that is, knew the company goals and understood how their jobs added to company successes.
  • Receive support from their supervisors.

Companies interested in building effective workplaces in which all employees feel respected and included should pay particular attention to these valuable practices as they enhance their work environments.

Inaction Is a Risk

Why should companies work to decrease barriers by implementing talent management practices? Because their talent will leave, if they do not. Indeed, nearly one-half (46%) of leaders responding to the survey indicated that they intended to leave their current employers in the next five years or were undecided about how much longer they would stay. Women pipeline leaders (22%) were more likely than all other groups (17% each) to report that they intended to leave their employer in the next five years. However, both women and men pipeline leaders indicated that they were uncertain about how much longer they would stay. Of the three regions we studied — Anglo, Germanic and Latin — leaders in Anglo-Europe were more likely to leave their company in the next five years (29% of women and 26% of men), while those in Germanic-Europe were least likely to leave (17% of women and 14% of men).


When companies address career advancement barriers effectively, leaders have more positive views of their jobs and companies, as well as greater commitment to doing a good job and lower intent to leave. Thus, the benefits to responding well to leaders’ talent needs are tremendous.

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Methodology: Companies determined who qualified as senior and pipeline leaders, with leaders then completing an online survey. The sample analyzed for this report included 4,585 senior and pipeline leaders from five global companies.

Sponsors and participants: BP p.l.c., Citigroup Inc., Fluor Corporation, Henkel, Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM Corporation, Infosys, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Total S.A., and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. sponsored and/or participated in the Leaders in a Global Economy study.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit corporate membership research and advisory organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. To download free copies of Catalyst research reports, visit www.catalyst.org. You may also sign up to receive our monthly e-mail updates at news@catalyst.org.