I have recently come across an interesting challenge. I work with organizations on building and delivering Women’s Leadership Development Programs. While these programs have been around in some organizations for years, there are many springing up organically – often at the request of the women on staff.
There are two things I have found interesting and a bit of a challenge to the success of these programs.
Organizations are giving a lot of lip service to wanting to recruit and retain women and say they want to have more women in leadership positions. Some even go as far as to set goals for more women in leadership roles. However very few put real support behind the initiative. I am not just talking about resources, although those certainly help build a robust program, which I’ll discuss in a minute. But I am also talking about creating thoughtful well designed programs with metrics and goals at their core.
Resources are key to building a program that supports not only the goals of the organization, but the goals for the type of leaders you want to develop. Often these programs are run by women already in leadership roles who are juggling many balls and yet are expected to plan, organize and deliver rich and meaningful programming. There is no budget for hiring a skilled in-house professional to build and execute a great program, or to bring in a professional who can do it. There are rarely even resources to pay talented speakers to come and deliver compelling content.
What are these organizations communicating to their female employees? ‘We want you to stay and move up in the organization, but we don’t think it’s important enough to give it the thought and dollars required to do it right.’ Last week I wrote about consistency being at the heart of authenticity. So if these organizations truly want to move the needle and develop more women for their organizations, they need to give it some time, attention and walk the walk.
2. Speaking the language of women
Recently I have been invited to speak for the women’s groups of several large companies. In each case, there were some men in the audience. I love that. I am delighted to have them and know that a great deal of my content will be valuable to them. However, I specifically build my content for the women in the audience because we have unique needs and our own way of communicating. But, I have heard that men in some of these organizations don’t want them to be for women only. To this I say – you have had your men-only groups for long enough, don’t give us grief if we want our own. It’s not that I think these should be girls clubs, bashing our male counterparts or bemoaning the challenges in the workplace. I think it’s great to have men attend and join in – it creates meaningful dialogue. However, the language of women at work is different and the internal challenges we face are often different from men. So we need a place to voice our points of view and develop our leadership skills in a way that is authentic and valuable to us as women.
A recent study by McKinsey stated that “By addressing the mindsets holding women back, corporate leaders can reshape the talent pipeline…increasing the number of women role models at the top.” And. the same research shows that highly diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by as much as 80%. So, I hope that I continue to see more organizations truly focus on developing and funding strong programs for their women, to help retain, recruit and promote the best within their organizations.