We are at a turning point when it comes to having women in leadership roles in the workplace. Gender stereotypes and harassment in their various forms are being called out on a more regular basis. Many companies are creating leadership programs tailored more toward women, but there are still questions about the best ways for companies to train and retain women. However, the companies that empower those future leaders now will clearly be better off in the short and long term by attracting and keeping their top talent.
While individual teams within a company can work to provide a positive environment for all employees, the onus for creating a positive workplace culture has to come from a place that touches all aspects of the company. In many situations, HR is the appropriate leader for these kinds of initiatives. Regardless, when there’s a formal path to move high-performing employees into leadership positions, and that path has buy-in across the company, the opportunities for success become more plentiful.
The key to understanding how to create a culture that promotes successful female leadership is to understand that there are gender differences for how men and women communicate and function in the workplace. While men and women can excel equally in their technical expertise, perception and priorities for women are different than they are for men. Organizations that create strategies reflecting these differences are more successful in supporting women in their leadership growth. For example, in communication, the primary goal for women is often inclusion and involvement. They strive to reach consensus. Therefore, peer and traditional mentoring can be helpful in the right situations.
Peer mentoring and other training opportunities for soft skills tend to go overlooked at some companies. There seems to be an idea that if someone has the requisite skills for a role, those skills should be enough to lead to success. But in many ways, culture is important to recognize when it comes to successful transition into a new opportunity. These skills for success can include time management, stress management and problem-solving techniques, and they can have a measurable impact on job satisfaction and growth.
In addition, getting younger female professionals invested in the future of the company through mentorship opportunities is a great way to build camaraderie and find solutions across the company. Learning the ins and outs of the company from someone with more experience is a great way to build relationships and increase retention with minimal investment. Finding women who are comfortable in mentoring roles can pay dividends across the company. Continually training new employees is costly, so keeping current employees happy is a clear win.
In addition, it can be difficult for any new employee to carve out time to work on critical projects. With meetings still so prevalent in many organizations, it can sometimes seem impossible to have the time to complete larger assignments. Mentors can help employees create time to work by, for example, creating days that are dedicated to alone time and others dedicated to collaboration. Learning these boundaries from other members of the company can help women feel empowered to prioritize their opportunities appropriately.
Another growing indicator of success and long-term retention of talent is the flexibility of the role. Women in general do not have any qualms with full-time commitment to a role, but the rigidness of the traditional nine-to-five schedule isn’t always compatible with modern lifestyles. As long as it doesn’t interfere with meetings or deadlines, flexibility can allow employees to be more productive and contribute in the way that makes the most sense for them.
Leadership roles can often require individuals to take risks and stretch out of their comfort zone. For women, doing so can be even more of a challenge, as many women may be more tentative in their approach in the workplace. This is not an indictment in the slightest; instead, it should be a wake-up call that a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership training can be problematic.
For example, when a man reads a job description, if he fits one of the five main qualities for the role, he will typically consider applying and feel some level of confidence that he can learn the rest of the responsibilities on the job. For some women, on the other hand, even if they fit three out of five of the main criteria, they may not be willing to apply. While this may not always be the case, it highlights how men may be more willing to take risks in their careers, while women may take more of a cautious approach.
Overall, while there is currently a gap when it comes to women in leadership and the empowerment those leaders feel in their roles, there are many ways for companies to alleviate those issues. While it may require that a company buy into an approach at a top-down, organizational level, the benefits of doing so clearly outweigh the costs. As companies take a more holistic approach to leadership training, they will become stronger. Moving forward, the companies that take that plunge now will be considered the trendsetters leading to overall better workplaces.