Survey Finds Women Are Trying to Boost Career Capital

By Steve Bates Mar 6, 2014
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Eighty-four percent of women are working to increase their career capital—the skills and personal branding that demonstrate their value and help them advance in their organization—a new survey shows.

Released by global management consulting firm Accenture just ahead of International Women’s Day, on March 8, 2014, the survey found few differences between the views of men and women regarding the importance of work in their lives. However, it highlighted the challenges that many women face as they seek to build their careers.

More than 4,000 businesspeople in midsize to large organizations in the U.S. and 31 other countries took part in the survey, which was conducted in November 2013.

Two-thirds of respondents said knowledge or competency in a specific area contributes most to career capital. Respondents made it clear they believe that education is important, but job-specific skills are more essential to career development. And women indicated that while the pressures of family and career continue to pose challenges, they are determined to prove they can have it all.

“Women are getting more comfortable with the belief that they can have a career” as well as a family, said Nellie Borrero, Accenture’s managing director for inclusion and diversity, who is based in the New York City area. Increasingly, they believe that “it’s not a matter of choice” between the two.

In a phone interview with SHRM Online, Borrero said, “Companies need to be aware that women have aspirations and goals … and to check for unconscious biases” that might prevent them from getting the same opportunities as men. Despite decades of progress, many women believe that men still have inherent advantages in hiring and promotion decisions.

Key Findings

The top three assets that respondents believe they bring to their jobs are:

  • Efficiency in completing tasks (56 percent).
  • A strong work ethic (50 percent).
  • Ability to learn new things (44 percent).

The skills and attributes that respondents expect will be most marketable in 2020 are:

  • Ability to multi-task.
  • Ability to speak more than one language.
  • Being a team player.

According to the survey, 44 percent of men and 42 percent of women would rather work than stay at home without a job even if finances were not an issue.

Nearly identical percentages of men and women use common methods to build career capital, such as:

  • Increasing personal and professional networks.
  • Seeking training and degrees.
  • Pursuing opportunities to advance and be promoted.

When asked what they believe contributes most to their career capital, 67 percent cited having knowledge or competency in a particular area, 47 percent mentioned self-marketing, and another 47 percent said networking.

Self-Promotion Pointers

Some women are hesitant to promote themselves, Borrero conceded. She suggested that women think of it as establishing and projecting a personal brand based on their skills and potential. Women must understand their company culture so they can find the sweet spot between being too cautious and being seen as too pushy when promoting themselves.

“Make sure that your leaders know your story,” she advised. It’s important to talk about your potential, but don’t lose sight of “what you bring to the table today.” She said women who are unhappy with their job are too quick to look for a position outside their organization. But if you do change employer, “go in with a plan to showcase your brand and build your network,” so you can establish and boost career capital with the new organization.

Career capital takes many forms, noted Cal Newport, an assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who writes and speaks about career development. “Figuring out the career capital relevant to your field, job or even company culture can be tricky. Most people don’t give this step enough attention,” he said in an e-mail interview.

He agreed with survey respondents that “there’s no prerequisite for building career capital from an education perspective. It does really help, however, to draw on the experience of others in your field to better understand what is valuable, what is not, and how you get more of the former.”

What’s more, it is important to think beyond today’s job market when building career capital.

“Assess your next step in terms of the skills, connections and credentials you might need down the line,” advised Benjamin Todd, co-founder and executive director of 80,000 Hours, an Oxford, England-based organization that counsels young people seeking jobs that have social impact.

“We don’t even know what jobs will be like in 30 years,” he added.

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.

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