“It’s lonely at the top” is what some women in the C-suite say when they don’t see others who look like them at the boardroom table.
That’s one of the reasons why companies have been working to incorporate more female talent into their senior leadership teams.
One study found that companies with 15% or more women in senior management roles benefit from a 5% increase in equity. That’s a game-changer.
In 2019 the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%, the highest number ever recorded. And with more women now pursuing advanced degrees, there is no denying that they will be a valuable resource in shaping the future of business.
However, while many women feel that there has been some positive change in the workplace, they also feel that there is still quite a bit of work to be done.
Career path challenges
Consider the fact that some women, especially caregivers, feel a sense of guilt for desiring a better work-life balance or for needing to take off work from time-to-time for family or self-care.
Others express feeling that their ideas or leadership styles are not always readily embraced when overseeing projects, or that they are not taken seriously by their teams.
In fact, Rhonda Contreras, the Chief Collaboration Officer at The Richards Group , described some of the challenges she faced along her career path as a woman by sharing, “We’ve all heard it: The same ambition and drive that’s admired in a male is deemed ‘too much’ in a female. I’ve been told that I ask for too much, push too hard, I’m never satisfied. Fortunately, I’ve had a strong female mentor for much of my career that is also ‘too much’. She has taught me to embrace it and to see my desire to constantly grow and my drive to pursue my goals as a strength, not a weakness.”
And, Nikki Wilson, the Chief Talent and Culture Officer at The Richards Group, elaborated on her experiences by stating, “Throughout my career, I’ve heard things like I was promoted too soon or that maybe I got promoted for the wrong reasons since I was often the only black female on the leadership teams that I served on. Some of my male counterparts may not have taken me seriously since I was a working mother trying to balance a career while caring for children, and this can be a challenge for many women in the workplace.”
Interesting, both of these women endured their historical challenges and now currently serve in executive leadership roles that play a major part in influencing the DEI work at TRG.
However, based on their sentiments, it’s important that organizations not only place women in positions of leadership, but that they also create a cultural environment that embraces and accepts their governance and creative ideas.
Organizations have to create a solid pipeline of female talent and attract female leaders who can help drive a more innovative and diverse workplace. Some of the top reasons companies fail to attract female talent includes things like the inability to deliver an attractive compensation package or the inability to distinguish which candidates can help move the company forward.
Talent in your backyard
But believe it or not, most organizations don’t even have to look too far outside their own backyard when it comes to sourcing qualified women for leadership because they already have a wide array of talented women working at various levels throughout their organizations that just need to be coached, mentored, and properly prepared for executive leadership.
Wilson added, “It’s critical to provide career-propelling and challenging roles for women who are already a part of your organization. Don’t assume that they are not ready, they need more experience in a certain area, or that the workload might be too much. Also, take a hard look all around your organization, in various functions, levels, and ages to see if you have overlooked those hidden gems. And when you find them, invest in their futures through stretch roles, sponsorship, and leadership development.”
So, with this in mind, here are a few keys to consider for unlocking your best and brightest female talent and preparing them for organizational leadership.
- Provide training and leadership opportunities. One of the best ways to secure successful leaders is by promoting from within and giving your existing workforce a chance to learn, grow, and cultivate their leadership skills. But becoming a leader is a transformative process that often requires training, skills, and confidence-building. It’s a process that takes time. And while you won’t get immediate results by offering sporadic training opportunities, you can build a long-term training strategy that can drive meaningful impact. This approach will ensure that your organization has a steady supply of new leaders to move up when the time is right, and position your company for sustainable success.
- Analyze wages. The wage gap persists, and there is no denying that women (in some cases) still earn less than men, even when comparable performance is delivered. Equal opportunity pay and provisions should be adopted, especially for the women who are already in your workforce. Take the time to conduct an analysis of your wages, and then true-up the salaries for your current female talent pool since mitigating any differences can go a long way in helping you retain them.
- Provide career mapping and planning activities. One highly effective way to develop talent and keep female employees engaged is by developing a career map that offers development plans, and promotion and networking opportunities so that they see a clear pathway towards becoming a leader. Mentorship in the form of coaching by having existing leaders help new employees gain the necessary skills by creating a career map is one great way to leverage your existing leaders for transferring knowledge to other leaders “in the making”.
- Be flexible. The modern career woman is often very busy. She might also be the head of her household, balancing caring for children and parents. Additionally, leaders are often highly engaged in their communities, serving on boards and other volunteer activities. Flexibility is one of the most important aspects of a job for all candidates, but it is especially important to many women leaders. Organizations that allow these talented leaders the flexibility to juggle their many duties and prioritize their tasks will often benefit from keeping their top performers happier – which generally means they are more committed to their position and success for the company.
- Continue to actively recruit women. It’s imperative to understand that recruiting female leaders isn’t just about the statistics related to diversity. You must also recruit them in a way that offers meaningful equality plans. Equal opportunity planning should be based on concrete goals with periodic measurements of progress. The bottom line is that organizations should look for sets of talents and skills, and when you find women applicants on par with those skills, be sure to make a competitive offer. If your organization doesn’t do this, they will miss out on the chance to bring qualified candidates on board. Even worse, you might lose out on a great applicant because a competitor recognized her value.
Historically, women have always felt the pressure to “shatter the glass ceiling”. Now, they are doing it more than ever before as the C-Suite is beginning to look very different from what it appeared to be in the past. It’s no surprise since data shows that female leaders can drive great financial outcomes, enhance organizational communication, uphold creativity, and introduce solid leadership values.
If your company isn’t looking at ways to attract women leaders and develop new leaders from within, then you could be missing out on a tremendous opportunity to tap into the skills, different perspectives, and cultural differences that drive effective solutions for your organization.