by Robyn Forman Pollack, Esq. —
The #MeToo Movement has given every organization a choice. Do nothing about workplace issues and face financial and reputational risk or proactively take action and commit to creating a zero-tolerance culture. One of the ways to make that commitment is to invest in the leadership and development of women.
Having more women in leadership can change the overarching culture, resulting in an environment of trust, collaboration, and respect where harassment is simply not part of the equation.
Here are three things organizations can do to build and support women leaders:
Implicit Bias Education
Unconscious gender bias is widely known to be one of the impediments to women attaining leadership roles in organizations. According to the McKinsey & Company/LeanIn Women in the Workplace 2017 study, only 40% of women think promotions at their company are based on fair and objective criteria. One way to combat this is to equalize evaluation and promotion decisions. To do this, organizations must strip biases from those processes. For example, companies should have multiple, diverse evaluators discuss their views on an employee’s work as opposed to just one evaluator. This allows for different viewpoints, and requires evaluators to slow down when assessing. Also, those responsible for evaluation and promotion decisions should take an implicit association test like the one provided by Harvard University, which creates awareness of the gender biases they may be applying. Finally, compare all employee evaluation and promotion decisions for objectivity, consistency, and job-relatedness. This will highlight and allow subjective comments to be eliminated.
Leadership Training for Women
While leadership training for all stakeholders is important, women often face additional hurdles when positioning themselves for leadership roles. Organizations can support their rising women leaders by providing training that is specifically targeted to help women succeed. One of the most important competencies good leaders possess is confidence. In their book, The Confidence Gap, journalists Clair Shipman and Katty Kay write that while women underestimate their abilities, men overestimate them by 30%. Giving women the practical tools to be more confident can include teaching how to overcome imposter syndrome, learning to self-promote, and taking calculated risks, like asking for stretch assignments. In addition, confidence breeds authenticity, allowing women to use their voices and encouraging others to do the same. Training can also be utilized to augment leadership strengths many women already possess, like emotional intelligence. Empathy and social responsibility are highly valued leadership competencies in today’s workplace and women generally exhibit those traits more than men. Organizations can help women further develop these competencies by recognizing and rewarding their importance to vertical and horizontal relationship building. But, companies need to do more than simply train women for leadership roles. They actually have to put them into leadership positions to reap the benefits.
Facilitating Sponsor Relationships
Women need mentors, and particularly sponsors, to rise to leadership positions. It is the professional and reputational capital that sponsors provide that can catapult women to the top. Research shows, however, that male professionals are 46% more likely to have a sponsor than women professionals. How can organizations encourage people, particularly men who often have the requisite power, to sponsor women? One way is to have the CEO, and other C-suite executives, actively and visibly sponsor several women themselves. This provides a clear message of the organization’s commitment and serves a role model function. Reward those who sponsor women - financially, through promotion or other relevant incentives. Again, this emphasizes the value-proposition around helping women get into leadership roles. And share data around specific, positive sponsor relationships and how those relationships directly resulted in the leadership success of women, and the ultimate financial success of the organization.
The importance of investing in women’s leadership cannot be underestimated, particularly in this current climate. Having women leaders not only reduces the risk of, and loss from, workplace issues, but it is essential to creating the kind of culture that results in profitability, sustainability, and competitive advantage. What choice will your organization make?
Robyn Pollack — Robyn is the CEO of Trellis Consulting LLC, a business strategy firm with an expertise in diversity and inclusion.
Trellis helps organizations attract and retain diverse talent and clients, prevent diversity crises, and maximize profitability through creation and implementation of customized D&I strategic solutions.