HR Management & Compliance

Why Do Women Have Less Access to Workplace Learning?

A recent report by D2L has revealed a major gender gap when it comes to workplace learning. I recently discussed the findings with D2L’s COO and the former SVP at Yahoo and Intuit, Cheryl Ainoa.

HR Daily Advisor: Your survey shows that women have less access to online learning platforms by 18 points. Can you help us understand why that might be?

Cheryl: In most cases, this discrepancy is likely unintentional. Research has shown that women tend to ask for a raise or new opportunity only when they believe they are 100% qualified, whereas men will do the same if they have just 60% of the required skills. This tendency also applies to training opportunities—in my experience, men are more likely to raise their hands, ask what’s available and suggest they’re the right person for the job. As such, male workers tend to be more top of mind when managers think of providing new L&D opportunities to their employees. The unintended result is that women are less often exposed to online training and development programs, regardless of how qualified they are.

HR Daily Advisor: Your study also showed that more women said they have no access to workplace learning and development programs by 16 points. Is this for the same reasons?

Cheryl: Yes, exactly. Women tend to miss out on workplace learning and development programs because they are not aware of the opportunities available to them. Women have a role to play being more proactive and vocal about their desire to be exposed to these programs, but companies and managers also need to be held accountable for sharing these program opportunities with them.

HR Daily Advisor: What can employers do to help tighten these gaps?

Cheryl: Leaders have an important role to play ensuring training and development opportunities are shared equally across an organization. Internal surveys can be a good first step to assess program awareness and gaps. As I mentioned previously, managers should be held accountable for bringing relevant opportunities to their teams. Companies also want to collect data on the available programs to better understand what’s working—both in terms of content, as well as delivery (simple tweaks to timing or format can have a big impact on how a program is received). Increasingly, technological solutions can help with all of that—particularly when it comes to designing, assessing, and evaluating engaging and effective courses.

HR Daily Advisor: Are any of the gaps you found attributable to specific industries or because of simply fewer female workers in certain fields?

Cheryl: It seems to be a bit of both. Just 5% are led by women, which suggests this problem is pervasive across industries. This inequity feeds itself: fewer women in leadership mean fewer women thinking about how to expand access and bring others up behind them.

That said, some industries are falling further behind than others. When we looked at industry-specific data, we found that within the financial services industry the gap is wider, with 74% of men saying their company offers skills training compared to 58% of women. In comparison, retail, travel, and real estate industries had a more narrow gap—with 56% of men saying their company offers skills training to 46% of women. This is particularly poignant when you consider the finding that the financial services sector has more training opportunities overall.

HR Daily Advisor: I can certainly see fewer women said they were somewhat satisfied by their employer’s learning and development program by 20 points. Is this just because they have less access, or was their lack of satisfaction due to other factors as well?

Cheryl: We know that access to learning and development is a key motivator for employees. People want to work for companies that invest in their continuous growth and development. So, it makes sense that the lack of awareness or access to programs affects how satisfied an employee is—with training specifically but also with their work experience as a whole. The message for employers is pretty clear: if you invest in training, your employees will return that investment.

HR Daily Advisor: More men said that they believed that their organization shared subject matter expertise across teams effectively by 18 points. Isn’t the subject matter expertise at an organization a constant?

Cheryl: While subject matter expertise is constant within an organization, not all information is shared equally. Leaders need to think about their culture and the way it helps or hinders the free flow of information. Here’s an example: at a previous job, the male executives would all attend the opera together, and I was never invited. Someone pointed out to me that the men didn’t want to upset their wives by inviting me. These types of invitations or snubs really matter as far as the access someone has to a company’s leadership ranks and subject matter experts. There is important information sharing and strategizing that takes place in these informal outings. I would just encourage leaders to be mindful of whom they invite, whether it’s to trainings or lunch or outings. Diversity and inclusion play an important role in a company’s ability to succeed, so ensuring employees have equal access to advancement opportunities across demographics needs to be a top C-level priority.