In 1948, 32.7 percent of the U.S. labor force was made up of women. By 2016, this number had increased to 46.8 percent. This means that, as of 2016, almost half of the jobs in the United States are filled by women. Statistically, this should also mean that almost half of the leadership positions at companies are filled by women. A 2017 demographic study found that women hold even more than half of management roles in a few industries: 71 percent of human resource managers, 70 percent of social and community service managers, and 65 percent of education administrators are women. However, women are still dramatically underrepresented in most leadership areas, including chief executive positions (28 percent), computer and technology management (26 percent), and construction management (7 percent).
A 2016 study identified a positive correlation between the presence of women in corporate leadership positions and overall company performance, and a 2015 study found that companies with “strong female leadership” generate a 3 percent higher return on equity than those that don’t. To succeed and grow as a company, it’s clear that organizations need the best leaders possible, which does not occur when women are constantly overlooked for leadership positions.
Challenging the status quo within an organization requires that company executives, board members and department leaders reexamine their assumptions. So, how can L&D departments transform the company culture and create initiatives that garner meaningful results? Here are eight strategies to put into place this year.
1. A Women’s Initiative Resource Group
Resource groups provide a platform for women to network and receive support from each other. They spark conversations about the issues and opportunities that impact women inside and outside of work, challenge the status quo, and, ultimately, shape the company’s leadership culture. L&D can help make these groups successful by developing training programs that help women articulate the value they bring to their organization.
2. Internal Resources
Build and maintain internal websites that offer a one-stop shop for tools, resources and other information that women can use throughout their careers.
3. Collaborative Career Mapping
Starting on day one of employment, work collaboratively with new hires to map out a career direction, and then meet regularly to adjust the direction as their interests and skills change. Align development plans to ensure promotions and networking opportunities are equal for men and women with similar capabilities.
4. Mentor Programs
Provide an environment that inspires female employees to find experienced advisors. Encourage at least one female executive in your company to reach out and select five women to mentor. Then, have each of those five women choose another five women to mentor; continue the practice to ensure that a culture of support and leadership resonates throughout the organization. L&D can assist by identifying female mentors and offering tools to help them develop mentoring skills.
Work with high-level executives in the organization to champion and recommend promising talent for key opportunities. This type of program is specifically designed to develop and retain the highest-potential female senior managers, providing high visibility to key business leaders and the CEO. L&D can help by creating workshops and scheduling executive sessions to deliver throughout the year.
6. Stretch Experiences
Provide opportunities for female employees to seek stretch assignments, such as taking on high-visibility projects and volunteering for new opportunities when they become available. L&D can play a key role in supporting these challenging assignments through formal and informal training.
7. Personalized Learning
Companies that support the view that careers are a lattice rather than a ladder support greater employee exploration and help people develop leadership skills. For L&D, this means ensuring that individuals have easy access to personalized learning plans, enabling them to explore opportunities in other work areas and functions. The key to creating a successful personal learning strategy is to seamlessly blend the essential learning for each role within the organization.
8. Re-Entry Training Programs
According to Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” 43 percent of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time. There are many reasons for this decision, but the resulting gap can make it challenging to return to the workforce and even harder to advance to senior positions. L&D organizations can help by establishing training programs that help women return to work after an absence, including programs designed to help returning employees catch up on new skills and technology changes that occurred during their time away.
While no single program or initiative will be the “silver bullet” that breaks down the barriers and advances women into senior roles, each of these strategies provides companies with an opportunity to take immediate action toward change. Change takes time, and it is hard work, but it will happen. Who better to lead the charge than L&D departments?
March was Women’s Leadership Month at TrainingIndustry.com. Check out our research report “Women’s Access to Leadership Development: A Tale of Two Experiences” by clicking here, watch our webinar recording, listening to this podcast episode or read the other great articles we published this month on developing women leaders:
- Women Lead the Way in Learning and Development
- Cracking the Code For Inclusion: How the Power of One Can Make it Happen
- Developing Women Leaders in the Public Sector
- Coaching as an Equalizer: Closing the Gender Gap in Leadership
- The Catalyst for Balanced Leadership: Best Practices for Women’s Leadership Development
- 8 Ways L&D Departments Can Help Women Break Down the Leadership Barrier
- No Boys Allowed? Engaging Men in Women’s Leadership Development Initiatives
- Three Ways Women Leaders Can Rid Their World of Imposter Syndrome
- How Learning and Development Can Help Close the Gender Gap in Sales
- A New “Mommy Track”: How Returnships Can Help Close the Gender Gap
- 5 Leadership Skills Women Can Use to Improve Their Company’s Bottom Line