Recent research by Training Industry, Inc. found that men are more likely to report that the leadership training they receive is effective and that women are less likely to report being able to apply certain types of leadership training on the job. While there are many interrelated factors contributing to the well-known gender leadership gap, it’s clear from this research that equalizing leadership training is an important step.

“I’m a big fan of helping women succeed through learning and development that builds on their strengths, helps them create the important networks that they need to succeed and gives them exposure to the right people,” says Joanna Barsh, co-chair of the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership’s Leadership Working Group and author of “How Remarkable Women Lead.” “Learning and development can be a catalyst” for balanced leadership, she adds.

Identifying and Nurturing High-Potential Talent

The first step, Barsh says, is to collect data: “Just draw the pipeline.” Make sure you can identify women at every level and not just the top. Know who they are, what their development plans are and what the organization is doing to help them grow.

At each step of the pipeline, adds Giovanna Ramazzina, head of corporate sales at Kaplan Leadership and Professional Development, make sure the definitions of high-potential talent are gender-neutral. “Are we measuring everybody by the same narrow yardstick that we use to measure the men in power or the predominant behavior?” asks Barsh. “Have we even asked ourselves if that dominant behavior is what we need going forward?”

While mentoring is a popular option and can be successful, Tara O’Sullivan, chief creative officer at Skillsoft, believes that “women are mentored to death,” and what they really need are sponsors – executive leaders who take it upon themselves to speak up for a high-potential woman when it comes to promotions, special assignments and other opportunities. Similarly, Barsh recommends developing pathways that expose women to the right senior leaders when they need that exposure the most. For example, provide talented mid-level women the opportunity to shadow senior executives, or offer rotating assignments in which they serve as chiefs of staff to those executives. That way, sponsor relationships develop naturally. Coaching is also important, Barsh says, but women need both.

Are All Modalities Created Equal?

Training Industry’s research found that while some learning modalities, like instructor-led training (ILT), on-the-job training and video, were preferred by both men and women, other modalities showed different preference levels between the two genders. For example, women were more likely to say they preferred to receive leadership training in webinars and using on-the-job coaching than men where, while men were more likely to prefer e-learning and books. It’s important to provide a blend of modalities when developing leadership training programs to appeal to both men and women.

In fact, a new program offered by Skillsoft in partnership with Leadership Balance uses blended learning. Women in Action uses an assessment tool, customized training (using Skillsoft content) and coaching to help women develop leadership skills. The program includes microlearning components, says Cathy Light, founder and CEO of Leadership Balance, to help women fit learning into their schedules. She adds that for teaching “hard skills,” targeted development programs are a better fit, while for soft skills, “a more collaborative development program” can encourage discussion.

The bottom line? Barsh says that good training should be “the high point of someone’s career.” It should be life-changing. It should inspire people.

Measuring Success

Establish a baseline before implementing any new leadership development programs. Otherwise, Light says, you’re just “throwing good money after bad money.” Compare the baseline to results after six months and then annually. Metrics include the number of female participants who were promoted and/or received raises after training; the number of women on the board, in C-suite positions and in senior vice president positions; whether fewer women take stress-related leave; and assessments such as 360-degree surveys to show individual behavior changes.

Light adds that it’s important to measure culture: “When you implement these training programs, what is the sentiment of the workforce from a cultural standpoint?” O’Sullivan agrees, adding that an annual survey of the workforce can help determine whether employees feel that the company supports a diverse work environment.

Several organizational assessment tools exist to help. Leadership Balance, for example, offers a “culture quotient” it uses to help clients measure culture. Pipeline, a company that recently joined the Salesforce Accelerate program, uses artificial intelligence, CEO and co-founder Katica Roy says, “to close the gender equity gap, once and for all.” Users integrate the platform with their human capital management and customer relationship management systems so they can use data to inform more equitable hiring, pay, performance and promotion decisions – and to determine the projected financial value of those decisions to the organization.

On the other hand, Barsh says, “I caution us against becoming so black-and-white that we are creating a metric that” doesn’t really tell us anything (like arbitrarily tying a metric to financial impact). “Let’s stick to metrics that we know we can measure, that are clear and that at least show … short-term impact.”

“In a world where there’s a war for talent,” Barsh says, “why would you not want to tap the broadest pool you can tap?” By developing leadership training programs that support men and women equally, organizations can ensure they’re tapping into that broad pool, and learning and development leaders can serve as a catalyst for balanced leadership and business success.

March was Women’s Leadership Month at 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: