Developing Women Leaders

While women have come a long way in the workplace, most organizations – 70 percent according to a recent study conducted by Mercer in conjunction with Talent Management and Diversity Management magazines – do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles. This is a missed opportunity as there is a clear link between the presence of women in executive committees and better financial performance. For the last three years, McKinsey & Company has studied the correlation between a company’s performance and the proportion of women in its governing body and has recognized the positive impact of gender diversity. While more organizations are focused on putting diversity and inclusion initiatives in place, those interested in boosting performance should reexamine the things they do to support and develop women leaders and integrate programs into their business strategy.

Where do the development opportunities lie?

Have executive sponsors. According to the Mercer study, one of the biggest challenges women face regarding their development as leaders pertain to the lack of role models. Many leadership and success experts agree that becoming an effective leader involves being mentored by proven leaders. By creating a formal or informal mentoring program, organizations can help future women leaders perform more effectively and increase on-the-job satisfaction.

Integrate learning and developing programs. To break the glass ceiling, women need broader experience as well as more business experience. Consider implementing job rotation to diversify skill sets, leadership behavior training programs and other development opportunities that give women hands-on leadership experience. For optimal results, institute strong accountability mechanisms and pervasive communication efforts.

Increase flexibility. Flexible and customized approaches to career paths make for a great place to work and support the needs of women leaders. Women who have invested in their careers don’t necessarily want a career break when planning a family; they prefer paths that allow them to sustain their careers and manage family responsibilities. To retain female leaders and support their development, organizations should take a flexible approach and provide programs that create alternatives to an all-or-nothing career path. Organizations that offer flexible work arrangements are able to boost employee productivity, increase employee loyalty and support diversity initiatives.

Developing women leaders should be at the heart of every organization’s leadership and diversity strategy. Encouraging senior leaders to mentor junior women, providing skill-building programs for women and supporting flexible work arrangements play a fundamental role in increasing women leadership and driving gender diversity in the organization.

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