Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

Empowering the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Diverse leadership drives successful organizations. Deloitte research suggests companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative and twice as likely to reach financial goals—or surpass those goals. Businesses with more women in senior leadership positions experience greater productivity, higher profitability, and better company performance, according to a new report from Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, which found a 10% increase in female top-tier managers at organizations led to an average 6.6% increase in market value. Companies with a female CEO saw a 5% increase in market value.

While the last year saw small gains in the number of women at every leadership level, women are still far outnumbered in vice president, senior vice president, and C-suite roles, where less than 30% of leaders are women, according to McKinsey’s 2021 “Women in the Workplace” report. Women remain plagued by the “broken rung”: They’re promoted to the role of manager at lower rates than men, stalling efforts to keep progress moving, especially into higher-level leadership roles. For every 100 men promoted to a management position, only 86 women are promoted. By starting at a disadvantage, it’s no surprise that the number of women leaders decreases as they rise through the ranks.

Women leaders support teams and drive stronger outcomes than their male counterparts. They’re champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and are more likely to help their employees manage their workloads, navigate work/life challenges, and prevent burnout than their male leaders. And they provide employees with emotional support and check in on their well-being more often. Those insights are all part of the McKinsey report, the largest study of women in corporate America. We should celebrate women leaders, and we should have more of them.

We need women leading at every level of our organizations, growing with our organizations, and helping to develop the next generation of women leaders. To get there, organizations must take inventory of their hiring, promoting, and compensation and support their female employees in their growth and development endeavors.

How Does Your Organization Measure Up?

Organizations can and must do more to recruit, retain, and develop female leaders. That work starts with an honest assessment of where you are as a company. Determine how many women hold leadership positions at each level in your organizational structure. What’s the internal promotion rate for women, and how does it compare with men? How many women are you hiring into leadership roles compared with men? Then look at your overall hiring of women compared with men, as well as turnover. Next, assess whether there’s a disparity in compensation between men and women. In 2021, women made, on average, 82 cents for every dollar men were paid—that’s up 1 cent from 2020.

These numbers should give you insight into the work you’ve done and the work ahead. As you approach that work, you can empower the women who already work for you.

What Women Leaders Need to Grow

Flexibility. The pandemic saw companies embrace flexible work across industries, with more teams working from home or trying hybrid work models. Companies must offer flexible work that focuses on results rather than hours clocked to promote an employee experience that supports more women, especially those with caregiving responsibilities.

General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra credits her bosses’ flexibility with the opportunities she had to climb the ranks at GM. As CEO, Barra carried that notion forward when she introduced the “Work Appropriately” flexible model for the future of work at GM.

Employees with access to remote work options are more likely to report feeling included, engaged, committed, and innovative than employees who don’t have remote work options. And women with children who have access to remote work options are 32% less likely to report intending to leave their job, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to build better workplaces for women.

Development opportunities. More than 25% of women with caregiving responsibilities told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) they felt as if their professional development was stifled during the pandemic compared with 10% of men. Women who made difficult decisions to support their families—whether it meant leaving the workforce entirely or stepping away from a full-time role—will benefit from robust reskilling and upskilling opportunities to continue their career journey.

Those reskilling and upskilling efforts start with transparency so everyone at your organization has access to the same opportunities. A talent experience management platform makes it easier to facilitate that transparency by surfacing career-pathing options based on skills employees already have. Team members can get a high-level view of the skills and development necessary to reach their career goals. They can also enroll in courses and match with short-term projects as part of an internal gig program, giving them hands-on experience to develop their skills and get that much closer to the roles they seek. 

Meaningful mentoring. A recent survey found 82% of men have had male mentors, while just 69% of women reported having female mentors. Mentors share their wisdom, act as sounding boards and cheerleaders, and give insight into their own successes and failures, as well as the disciplines and practices that have sustained their careers. They also offer tacit knowledge and lived experience that can kick-start advancement.

Women need a direct connection to the resources of a good mentor. But the process of finding a mentor and asking to enter into that relationship can be daunting. Therefore, a robust talent experience management platform can recommend mentors, connecting team members with women who share their skills, backgrounds, interests, or goals.

International Women’s Day is a great reminder of the value of the women in our personal lives, our businesses, and our boardrooms. But we can’t rely on one day of the year to encourage and motivate women to grow into leaders. Supporting the women in your organization must be a constant pursuit demonstrated through your hiring and promoting practices and your commitment to growth and development for the women who work for you.

Keca Ward is the Senior Director of Talent Experience at Phenom. She is a seasoned talent leader with an entrepreneurial background in start-up cultures. Ward has established and implemented HR strategies that foster the hyper-growth of the organization and people development. She’s also an industry speaker and writer on talent, culture, and human capital.