Investing in Women’s Leadership Development

March 21, 2018

The women’s leadership gap hinders more than just women, as organizations and society cannot maximize their potential without diverse perspectives in leadership and without fully leveraging the range of talent and qualifications that women bring to the workforce.  As a women’s leadership development coach and consultant, I was thrilled to see this crucial area explored in many discussions at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2018 International Women’s Day Forum. It is clear that a holistic and collaborative approach is needed to change the existing systems that hold women back, improve women’s self-efficacy in pursuing leadership opportunities, and challenge the unconscious biases that affect leadership decisions.

Implementing Organizational Changes

In order to create organizational systems that invest in and support women’s leadership, there must be ongoing dialogue, sufficient data collection, and collaboration between all levels of an organization. Measuring employee engagement is a crucial piece of this puzzle. Employee engagement programs should assess how senior leadership is facilitating diversity and inclusion initiatives. In addition, regular conversations with women to listen to their stories, needs, and challenges will enhance the meaning behind this data. A psychologically safe environment that creates an honest and open dialogue among employees, with leaders who are willing to reflect, listen, and engage in corrective actions, are vital to implementing any type of organizational change. Organizations should ask themselves and their employees: “What kind of environment can we create for women to stay and excel?” and then commit to executing changes to create these systems.

Managing Unconscious Bias

Perceptual errors and implicit bias create unconscious stereotypes, attitudes, and understandings that affect how one views the relationship between gender and leadership. It is crucial that organizations and individuals work to “de-bias” job hiring processes by conducting regular implicit bias awareness trainings and ensuring that technology remains free from algorithmic bias. One simple way for teams to manage human perceptual errors is to remove all extraneous information when reviewing a job candidate’s information. For example, information that is not needed to evaluate someone’s credentials, such as their name or photo, should be left out of the initial process as a way to protect from stereotyping or unfounded judgments. The truth is that we all have unconscious biases, and in order to challenge them, we need to start by becoming more aware of our thoughts and attitudes. We can ask ourselves: “Is this the conclusion I want to draw? How true is this really? Where is this perspective coming from?”

Effective Leadership Development

Individual leadership development and confidence building are often classified as “soft skills,” however; possessing capacities related to self-awareness and self-management is essential to being a truly authentic and influential leader. As a coach, I work with women to identify, evaluate, and overcome limiting beliefs, assumptions, and negative self-perceptions in order to hone their leadership abilities.  We also focus on professional skill development, building emotional intelligence, developing strong communication habits, and other aspects of leadership development. However, the most powerful aspect of this process is when women break through internal obstacles to create new opportunities for themselves. At the International Women’s Day Forum, Tami Majer, Danone North America, highlighted the self-efficacy facet of women’s leadership development: “The system needs adjustment, but I sometimes stood in my own way.” When women stop “standing in their own way”, they also build their overall resiliency as a leader to respond and adapt to future challenges and to develop new avenues of success for those they’re leading. Emerging women leaders should challenge their own self-limiting perceptions and ask themselves: “How am I holding myself back? What can I do to address these assumptions?”