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- 17 May
I follow the gender parity research done by Bain & Company each year because it focuses on action.
I remember reading the 2015 results when Tim and I were half way through creating gender balance in our financial markets businesses (not easy) and it’s memorable because it made us stop in our tracks and refocus our efforts.
At the time, we were having some success with recruitment, but were struggling to translate that into leadership promotions. We realised we were bringing great women into the team, but were not giving them enough support in the first two years.
And these years really matter.
In the first two years, women are building the mindsets to become senior leaders. The decisions about their careers (and aspirations) are based on the daily interactions with their managers and peers. So during those years, frontline managers play a critical role.
We weren’t the only leaders failing on this front. The research shows women’s ambition and confidence dropped rapidly in the early years in most organisations.
“Women’s ambition and confidence drops by over 20% in the first two years while men’s remains largely unchanged”
So what practical actions can frontline managers take to turn this around?
The good news is there are simple, practical ways to fix this today.
Tell great women they can progress to senior leadership, then back that up with action
Invest in day-to-day coaching, provide specific and workable feedback: “Here is what you are doing well, here is where you need to continue to invest, and here is how I will help you.” Champion high-potential women both behind-the-scenes and in front of others. Strongly encourage women to apply for stretch roles and provide air cover and support.
I can’t emphasis enough the courage and trust good air cover creates. Most of my progression and learning occurred when I had a manager who provided protection and the room to take risks. When I had managers who didn’t do this, I left and found better opportunities. As do many other female leaders I talk to.
Focus on the whole person, not just the task
Have more frequent and broader professional development conversations. When discussing professional priorities, have open and honest discussions about how they fit with personal priorities. Ensure plans meet both professional and personal goals.
This is new and a little uncomfortable for some male leaders, who prefer to keep relationships transactional and task focused. I watched many struggle at first worrying about “crossing lines” or not having the answers. Yet time and time again, leaders got better with practice, developed stronger, more rewarding relationships and saw huge returns in motivation, ambition and engagement.
Highlight Different Paths to Success
Celebrate a diverse variety of successful leadership styles and ways to integrate work and personal priorities. Find and showcase leaders who role model work-life balance. Our WOW Insights reinforced this. Seeing really is believing. Talk openly about the highs and lows of your own journey and take the time to discuss how women can use their own strengths to progress to senior leadership.
The above tips are taken from our Inclusive Leaders program. We focus on helping leaders learn how to manage successful gender balanced teams. The program works because it’s run by business leaders. We can relate to the challenges and have already successfully navigated through them.
To talk to us about how we can help your organisation please Contact Us