Three Tips for Advancing Women in Leadership
Originally published by The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report
When consulting with various corporate executives about strengthening their company’s leadership, they are often interested in promoting women into leadership positions, however, they express a similar challenge: when their company has a leadership opening, they struggle to find women internally with the right skills needed. Their limited succession planning becomes a missed opportunity for these companies.
Advancing women in leadership is smart business. Consistent research shows that a more equal number of women leaders in an organization greatly benefits the bottom line. A Catalyst study found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on their board outperform their competitors with 53% more returns on equities, 42% more return on sales and 66% more return on invested capital. Research also shows that having women as part of the leadership team is more likely to improve employee engagement, productivity, innovation, and organizational sustainability. Despite the value that women bring to businesses, most companies are still missing out on these opportunities. For example, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women executives account for only 6% of chief executives at the top 100 tech companies.
For any executive or business owner wanting to benefit from creating gender parity in their leadership team, below are three steps to take.
1. Create a ten-year leadership talent pipeline:
Work with your direct reports to identify a list of employees with future leadership potential, and make sure your list has a high representation of women. If there are not enough women in the pipeline early on, that is a clear indication that you will not have women prepared to fill future leadership roles when they become available.
Then, document a two-year talent development strategy that includes targeted training, coaching, job rotations, and performance reviews that each leadership candidate would need to complete in order to advance. These plans can be developed in a simple excel document, but need to be periodically reviewed and updated based on the needs and progression of each employee.
Also, create metrics to keep track of the percentage of leadership roles held per gender at various levels.
The benefit of the talent pipeline is to help build a long-term vision for the future leaders, and a plan to develop and promote highly talented women. This way, when your company has an open leadership position, you will already have a pool of qualified women who can be considered for the opening.
2. Develop programs to attract and retain women leaders:
It is critical to ask women leaders in your organization for feedback about what they need and value. For some, it may be executive sponsorship, networking opportunities, and visibility. For others, it may be the company’s investment in their growth and development. For many women, it may be the option of flexible work arrangements.
If you have top women leaders leaving your company, focus on what they are communicating about what pushed them to resign during the exit interviews. This is important for finding solutions for future talent retention. It would be better not to delegate the exit interviews to HR, but instead to make the time to have the discussions with these women.
Based on this feedback, take action and implement programs that attract women to lead and stay with your company. Measure the effectiveness of these programs, and most importantly, continue to communicate your company’s commitment to gender parity across all levels of the organization.
3. Participate in discussions focused on women in leadership:
Two years ago, I was invited to speak at a women’s event at a fortune 100 Technology company. As I walked into the conference, I was immediately surprised to see that there was an almost equal number of men and women waiting for the event to start.
I was shocked by this, I even asked my client, “I thought I was presenting at your women’s event. There are many men sitting in this room, am I in the wrong place?”
My client smiled as she responded, “We open our events to men as well as women. We encourage them to participate in the dialog related to the advancement of women in leadership. We even have the head of Global Supply Chain Management, a male executive, attending our event today.” She continued, “By including men in these important discussions, they get the opportunity to hear and understand the challenges that women face. As a result, they become more aware and dedicated to creating and implementing solutions.”
Her answer made me realize the value of including men in these discussions in order to help them understand the unique challenges that women face at work. This is a great way for shifting mindset, dissolving stereotypes, and implementing actionable solutions.
Being deliberate in driving change and promoting gender parity amongst the leadership teams results in multiple wins for the company’s bottom line, the women leaders, our economy, and our society. There is also another crucial win; it is the win for the next generation of women who will now have female leaders to look up to as role models.
What actions are you taking to benefit from gender parity in your business?