Ask a man on the street if there is diversity in corporate leadership in America, and he is likely to say, “Yeah, I think women hold about 25% of the business leadership positions.” But that statement is a misconception driven by a type of bias known as the availability heuristic, when high-profile examples make us believe something is far more likely.

The reality is women and minorities are stuck. Although women currently represent over 50% of the workforce, that representation falls to 22% when looking at C-suite executives and less than 7% when it comes to CEOs in the Future 500. This gap has not changed in more than a decade.

“I think what’s striking is the representation of women in leadership at all levels — from first-time to mid-level to the top — that representation has not changed in 15 years,” notes Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI. “The research points to a number of things holding women back. One of the things is the fact is that women lack confidence and don’t see themselves as ready for a leadership role. Another is lack of role models. If I can paraphrase Geena Davis, ‘If you can’t see, it you can’t be it.’

“We need more female role models to break the barriers, speak out about how they got there, and help pull others up.”

To reach actual parity in senior leadership, your talent development strategy needs to consider the obstacles women face.

confidence gap chart

Used with permission.

Why do women lack the confidence to take that first step into leadership? “Data from our assessments shows that women perform with the same strengths as men do, yet they are far less likely than men to recognize their own talents.”

hard and soft skills graphic

Used with permission.

“Humility is on our side,” Byham says, “But literally, women are thinking that the pathway forward takes 10 steps, while the men are thinking, ‘I can do that in three steps.’ As a psychologist, I see that there is a difference between risk-taking behaviors. Men are more likely to take risks; they jump in.”

Byham and journalist Ellen McGirt are writing a book about strategies (“power moves”) women can use to help themselves and other women move ahead in leadership. The four power moves — ask for what you want, radiate confidence, fail forward and superpower your network — come from research and practice.

“The four power moves come from affinity clustering on the research, as well as our women’s business resource group inside DDI,” Byham explains. “We started talking about things we wanted to do to help women inside our company, and those things aligned with the factors coming out of the research.”

With a greater awareness of what’s holding women back, talent professionals can create more learning and development opportunities for themselves and for other women in their organization.

Power Move #1: Ask For What You Want

“Think about what it would take for that big ask, and then go further than you think you would want to,” Byham says.

How to leverage the move for yourself:

  • Think two steps ahead.
  • Take the project that comes with an extra opportunity or international experience, for example.
  • Get in line for a profit and loss (P&L) position. “We know that one of the things that holds women back from rising is their lack of P&L experience,” Byham notes.

How to leverage the move for other women in your organization:

“Amplify others, [and] be an ally,” Byham says. “Let’s say you have taken some good moves, yourself. Look behind you, and see who you can encourage.”

For example, create a job-shadow program, or make available the success pathways that women can take to rise as a leaders.

What if the response is no?

“I would ask for specific feedback on why not. I would ask … what would be the milestone steps to help me get there and [for] a review in six months with a decision-making group to see if I’m on track,” Byham says. “There may be logical good reasons for a ‘no,’ but if there is not a good reason, I would take that as a sign that that’s not the organization I want to be in.”

Power Move #2: Radiate Confidence

“Project confidence by your physical demeanor and the words you use,” Byham says.

How to leverage for yourself:

  • Use more declarative words.
  • Strike the words “sorry” and “just” from your communications.
  • Develop your presentation skills. “Try Toastmasters, storytelling groups or hosting the awards banquet for your daughter’s soccer team to develop these skills,” Byham says.

How to leverage for others:

  • Pass on these tips.
  • Listen to someone else give her pitch, and give her constructive feedback.
  • Support opportunities for women to develop their presentation skills.

Power Move #3: Fail Forward

“It’s not just taking the risk and having the failure but, most importantly, to learn from doing that,” Byham says.

How to leverage for yourself:

  • When you’ve failed, share with others what you learned from that failure, and take action on what you’d do differently next time.
  • If you’re always behind the scenes, get in front.

How to leverage for others:

  • When you see those opportunities, give your colleague a nudge.
  • Bring a new person onto your team.
  • Cultivate a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.

Power Move #4: Superpower Your Network

If you’re not already involved in a professional network, get involved locally, virtually or nationally, Byham says.

How to leverage for yourself:

  • Find a mentor.
  • Go beyond superficial questions; ask somebody about what he or she is working on and how you could contribute your skills and talents to help.
  • “There’s an art to creating a provocative hook to talking with you. Take what was a business card exchange to the next level,” Byham says.

How to leverage for others:

“Everyplace I go, people have awakened to the fact that they need broader diversity in a lot of ways — diversity of thought is critically important — [and] they want to know how to get it,” Byham says. “The power moves are one part of the equation. The systemic issues are less about what happens to the woman when she’s in the room and more about what happens when she’s not in the room. There is still an opportunity gap between men and women.”

Byham concludes, “Power moves help because once you’re in the leadership role, you will continue to network and fail and learn and radiate confidence and declare yourself, being an example for others. We need systemic change to come from outside, but the power moves are necessary first step.”

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