Organizations need to commit to examining the systemic barriers that block their ability to fully leverage the impact of women.
Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #PressforProgress; that requires providing more and better leadership development opportunities to women in the workplace.
I am hopeful that your organization has much to celebrate today, that respect and celebration of gender diversity is a no-brainer.
I am hopeful that examining the very real systemic barriers and structures that exist to fully leveraging the impact of women within the confines of your company occurs regularly and is a commitment from your C-suite.
I am hopeful.
Leadership is a behavior, not a title. The road to achieving awesome strategic and company objectives will become much easier to travel when all employees are offered a space to shine and contribute, EVEN if the methods of contributing are different from the norm or stereotypical preferences.
To that end, here are three leadership development strategies your organization can use to #PressforProgress.
Consider methods to close the confidence gap
Research conducted by Development Dimensions International revealed that only 30% of women rate themselves in the top 10% of leaders compared to 37% of men. And the gap only increases at more senior levels (63% of men compared to 49% of women). A classic internal Hewlett Packard study showed that men apply for jobs as long as they meet 60% of the requirements whereas women only apply once they meet 100% of the requirements.
Using this data, it’s important to ask ourselves, how our leadership development structures and processes support (or not) the closing of this confidence gap.
How do we support women employees in going after opportunities?
How do we encourage, recognize, and reward women in their careers and professional development efforts?
How do we actively recognize and encourage, in both men and women, behaviors that are stereotypically deemed as “feminine” (and therefore less valued) like empathy, vulnerability, inclusiveness, and generosity?
Ensure the utilization of mentors/sponsors
Do your leadership development programs explicitly support the use of mentors/sponsors? There’s evidence to suggest that employees with formal mentors are 1.4 times more likely to be promoted. Mentoring relationships can be incredibly beneficial—not only for the mentee but for the mentor as well.
Mentees are provided with the opportunity to learn and receive coaching from someone with skills and experience to share. They are offered a space to verbalize and better understand their own professional goals and aspirations. Mentors are offered an opportunity to better understand their business, build their networks, and learn how to influence and support from different perspectives.
Sponsors are people who are willingly (and sometimes unbeknownst to you) actively advocating for you. Sponsors have influence and networks that you may not have AND they have faith in you. Their ability to support your professional and career development is great.
Both mentors and sponsors also provide women with role models that are often sorely lacking in the workplace. Research by Brandon Hall Group suggests that four in 10 companies agree that a lack of role models is to blame for low utilization of women in C-level positions. Women need to see and know other women in leadership positions to better understand what that can look like. Representation plays a huge role in confidence building and self-acceptance.
Ask women about their desire to grow and develop
Organizations must also build in systems and processes that encourage US (i.e. managers, mentors, sponsors, colleagues) to ask questions that create space for women to fill in the blanks. One-on-ones, quarterly professional development check-ins, and coaching/mentoring relationships are just some of the places where—until confidence levels increase—WE can influence conversations by asking targeted questions like:
- Would you be interested in developing your leadership further?
- Have you considered applying to job X?
- How can I help you to achieve your career goals and aspirations?
Being more explicit in asking such questions and proactively providing ample space for meaningful contributions, rather than expecting and assuming silence means disinterest, not only helps to close some of the gender parity gaps that exist but also respects existing personality differences. We build many of our talent and leadership development programs within very extraverted, preferred, and assumed guardrails. These biases negatively impact both men and women who aren’t necessarily beating down the doors for access to professional and leadership growth and development.
Committing to developing female leaders in the workplace is truly a commitment to leveraging the skills of all women and men, to celebrating a diversity of skills and achieving awesome outcomes as a company. It’s a journey in which both men and women play a critical role, and a process that requires thoughtful and mindful consideration and effort.
Happy International Women’s Day!
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