Gender diversity in corporate leadership as a topic has been given considerable amount of study and research. An August 2012 Credit-Suisse Report links board diversity (gender) to better stock market and financial performance (higher return on equity, lower leverage, higher price/book ratios and improved growth prospects). The report suggests several explanations for this better performance including, a stronger mix of leadership skills, improved understanding of consumer preferences (women control more than two-thirds of consumer spending) and more attention to risk. Research shows that they bring more stability, have open communication, and are more emotionally intelligent and sensitive.
So why do most companies NOT have women at the top?
A survey asked a group of women executives from middle to senior management about the skills that are needed to reach the top? The two most rated qualities or skills were confidence and ambition. It is commonplace for women to be side-lined due to a lack of assertiveness. They lack confidence in themselves and are more accepting of the roles given to them by the organizations. The male bosses tend to be soft around the women as they feel that women would not be able to handle pressure and need to be mollycoddled.
Academic research shows that such gender biases exist in the society. Women and men acquire these attitudes, many of them subconsciously and early in life.
So how should it start for women at workplaces? From other women! –women who have managed to reach the top management should mentor and guide the women in subordinate positions to enable them to reach ahead in their careers.
The few women who have reached the highest ranks, have been there. To them gender is no longer an issue. They have compromised, made sacrifices along the way and found solutions to overcome the alleged glass ceiling. Their accomplishments represent significant milestones—not just for women in business—but for women all over the world making career choices.
These women need to take up the baton and ensure a healthy and sustainable leadership pipeline. A poll showed that women employees felt a need for mentorship, coaching and commitment from senior leadership to help them rise up in their career ladders.
Coaching the younger women in how to navigate the corporate jungle can go a long way in retaining promising talent and nurturing them to grow. It was felt that a woman mentor is able to understand the capability of the female talent pool and do not pull their punches. Unlike male leaders who tend to pussyfoot around female managers, they push them to their highest capabilities because they know they can do it. They act as role models and encourage women employees to overcome the so called “barriers” to reach the top.
Coaching can be formal or informal. A formal method of coaching is Sponsorship. You identify the person with potential to rise up in the career and sponsor or vouch for her credibility and consciously spend time in coaching this person. This becomes a very effective method as the onus for development of that individual is also on the sponsor and not just the mentee. But for this to take shape, commitment from senior leadership is needed. Companies like Ebay, Schnieder Electric, Deloitte, have made it a mandaAte to nurture female talent.
Ebay and Deloitte have started an initiative called WIN (Women Initiative Network) which had all women in senior positions who acted as role models to inspire the younger women. The objective of this initiative is work-life balance and career development. It also makes gender diversity a company priority and expand support for women to build lasting, successful careers at eBay Inc. Based on the principle that women own their careers and should shape their professional development, the WIN program equips women leaders with the tools needed to learn, grow and develop by creating awareness of gender diversity issues, encouraging advocacy and sponsorship, fostering professional growth and development, and deepening the connections among women in the company.
Schnieder Electric has a “Women in Leadership” Program for women identified as potential leaders. These women are mentored by top executives and their goal is acceleration of career development, building of a career path and increased awareness of how to leverage personal and professional performance, development of strategies for addressing barriers and limiting beliefs, and establishing a women’s support group.
“Businesses restrict their own growth potential when women are unintentionally excluded from key training and advancement opportunities. Whether the economy is up or down, who gets promoted — and who gets left behind — has substantial consequences for business success.” says Ilene H. Lang, Former President & Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst.
The reality is that Companies with women leaders perform better. It is up to the senior leadership to take responsibility to mentor our potential women leaders to shatter the glass ceiling!
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