One of the biggest challenges for organizations is developing their female leaders. The gender leadership gap is one of the most discussed topics in business, but there are multiple perspectives. One of those perspectives is female ambition and women’s support system in the workplace. What can organizations do to cultivate and retain more ambitious female leaders?
Emerging Female Leaders
Individuals become leaders by assuming a leadership identity and developing a sense of purpose. Adopting oneself as a leader is a constant process. As an individual’s leadership capacities continue to grow and prospects continue to validate them, more high-profile, challenging projects and other organizational commendations become more probable. These types of affirmations typically provide leaders with the courage and resilience to step outside of their comfort zones and experiment with new modes of exercising their leadership, including new behaviors. However, what happens if you are a woman whose leadership capacities need continual development?
The reality is that women are not as challenged in the workplace as men. They do not receive the same amount of feedback, and when it occurs, it often is not in the same valuable context. Women cannot internalize a leadership identity when there is an absence of affirmation, which diminishes self-confidence, assertiveness and ambition.
Women are important assets to an organization. Companies must develop their skills, self-confidence and assertiveness and provide them with the right tools to use their ambition. It is also important to address the identity shift that occurs when women adapt to a leadership role as well as the policies and practices that communicate inconsistency between how women are seen and the qualities and experiences that people tend to associate with leaders.
The persistent gender bias for women disrupts the typical learning cycle at the center of becoming a leader. Coaching is an important piece of supporting women and their ambitions. However, it is not the only or the best method to developing female leadership.
Women need the opportunity to take the reins. If an employee’s career is not flourishing, it is in her and the organization’s best interests to provide her with opportunities to further develop her skills. What does she enjoy? Where does she excel? Strengths development is important, because it also is key to building confidence, courage and assertiveness.
Effective leaders develop their sense of purpose by following goals that align with their personal ambitions and enhance the collective good at the same time. By doing so, they can look beyond the status quo to what is conceivable and provide a persuasive reason to act despite any personal fears or insecurities. These types of leaders are often viewed as the most authentic and trustworthy due to their increased willingness to take risks in the service of shared objectives. They also have a greater ability to connect others to a larger purpose, which inspires commitment, increases tenacity and helps colleagues find a deeper meaning in their work. A deeper connection also strengthens employees’ self-confidence and assertiveness and furthers their ambition.
What about Gender Bias?
Women are exposed to bias on a regular basis, making it difficult to establish credulity in a culture that is conflicted about whether, when or how leaders should exercise authority. How can women be assertive when this is the message they are consistently receiving? When organizations establish their policies, it is essential to consider the practices that can be equated with leadership behaviors that are more common in men, which suggests that females are not even capable of becoming leaders. Also, what happens when women do not have role models to follow?
Recent research by the American Association of University Women found that women are much less likely to be considered for leadership positions. Only 500 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had female CEOs in 2015. The bias worsens as demographics are broken down. Asian, black and Hispanic women experience a much more acute problem: Fewer than 3 percent of board directors at Fortune 500 companies are women in these groups.
A Matter of Fairness
Leaders hold quite a bit of power, and by not having enough female leaders, the opportunity for women to make an impact is not available. Public policy, fair workplace policies and practices, and accountability are the only actionable steps left to solve this never-ending problem.