Are you an executive committed to balancing gender ratios at senior levels? Have you struggled with what, exactly, you can do to increase the odds for women? In my last article I advocated for taking risks to promote more women. But what if you aren't in a position to do that right now? There are many things you can do, beyond what happens during annual succession planning or when you're filling an executive job opening.
1. Think about it differently.
What does that mean? Start by thinking about how to help women succeed and develop, not just how to help them get "the" job. All of us can support their success, even if we don’t directly manage people. Since women (like people of color) have had more hurdles to overcome in their careers, any way that you can support them in doing their jobs well, getting opportunities to excel, learning, getting useful feedback, or making the right connections will increase their chances of moving up. Think of it as a day-to-day responsibility, not an occasional decision to be made.
Another mindset change that can help is focusing your awareness on the ways that women are subtly excluded, then working to eliminate those. This means thinking about creating the culture of the room you are in, becoming aware of what factors might exclude or include women. Who gets invited to join a lunch group, who are the speakers at the meeting, how are seats assigned? How can we arrange things so that everyone is included, connected, and given an invitation to participate, to have a voice, to be listened to? Share your sincere interest in everyone’s participation. Increasing transparency and trust, and reducing fear, helps create an environment where everyone’s talents are developed and recognized.
2. Communicate expectations.
Especially when she’s in a new role, or you’re her new boss. Really, everyone needs this, and many people managers don’t do it justice. Women may be more hesitant to ask questions about expectations and may make the wrong assumptions about what really matters. This doesn’t mean tell her how to do it (especially if she's at a management/leadership level). But make sure she knows what results really matter, who the important stakeholders are, how this job may be different than what she’s done before. How will her success be measured? How will you both know she’s doing well, or not? How can she learn more, if she gets stuck on something? Have a conversation or two about this. Get her perspective and share yours.
3. Connect women with other leaders, especially women leaders.
Make introductions suggesting why the women should connect, take two women to lunch who you think should know each other. Women need to develop strong networks with each other, both inside and outside the company - to have other women they can reach out to for advice, input, and feedback. Encourage her to take the time to develop her network. If you are her boss, help her get to know your women peers, especially the most respected, successful ones she can learn from.
4. Help her broaden her perspective.
Everyone who has potential to move up needs this. Give her projects or assignments that require working across departments or functions. Help her understand the impact of her work on business results, customers, employees, other parts of the business, or the board. Encourage her attendance at meetings where issues beyond her immediate role are discussed and encourage her to ask questions.
5. Provide effective feedback and coaching.
Provide helpful, timely feedback to help her see the impact of her actions and behavior. Help her understand her reputation in the company and how she might improve it. Do this in a way that builds your relationship and conveys your positive intent. “I want to help you succeed, and I have some observations that might be helpful. Would you be interested in talking about that?” Let her choose the time so she can be receptive and open. Make it a positive conversation, where you help her discover other ways she might approach or do something – ask her what she might do differently to have a better impact.
If she’s got real potential to lead at a higher level, or if she’s newly promoted, consider engaging a professional leadership coach. A coach who focuses on building her self-awareness, helping her see how she might be getting in her own way, and guiding her development as an authentic leader can greatly accelerate her growth.
Most leaders can be more intentional about supporting women's success and take actions every day that make an important difference. I hope that you will do just one thing, today, to support a woman leader’s career. And I thank you for doing so!
Proactive career development support like this can have a faster, more powerful impact when provided to a cohort of women within an organization. When women work as a team to learn, grow, give and receive feedback, and broaden their business thinking, they also develop supportive, lasting connections with each other. And when that is done as part of an intentional cultural evolution to expand inclusive development, you get lasting changes that pay off with better leadership for years to come. If you are interested in exploring how you might go about doing this, please get in touch with Linda for a free introductory consultation.