Bridge the Women and Leadership Gap With Mentors, Training

Bridge the Women and Leadership Gap With Mentors, Training


Pamela Hogle


Companies with more female executives and board members tend to enjoy better performance and are more profitable than those without women in the C-suite, according to a global survey conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Adopting strategies geared toward addressing issues of women and leadership can give your company a competitive edge.

Start with the numbers

Qualified women are out there: Women have earned more bachelor's degrees than men for decades; they ask for promotions and raises and stay in the workforce at the same rates as men, according to Lean In's "Women in the Workplace 2018" report. When seeking to increase the number of women in senior roles, it's helpful to start with a look at hard numbers—how many women your organization employs, their roles and promotion histories and their pay relative to professional peers. Then, establish goals, set a timeline and identify benchmarks to guide your progress. Organizations might then step up recruitment at women's colleges, for example, and emphasize diversity in executive searches and interview pools.

Build a leadership pipeline

Men tend to get promoted based on potential, while women are judged by their past performance, Lean In discovered. One result is that fewer qualified women are hired and promoted: For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are. One way to address this is to establish clear, objective criteria for all hiring and promotion decisions. This can include a standard set of questions that all applicants answer in the initial interview; it might also mean creating clear guidelines for rating candidates' responses. Some companies strip information like names and university affiliations from resumes prior to review to avoid unconscious biases that might favor one gender or alumni of a hiring manager's alma mater. Training opportunities can also set women up for success—starting on their first day of work. Companies that foster a culture of learning often encourage entry-level employees to seek training beyond what is required in their current roles. Managers can take the lead, guiding women along personalized learning paths that emphasize soft skills needed by leaders. Incorporating material from the corporate learning platform, including external content libraries, is an easy way to make high-quality leadership and management training available.

Corporate culture plays a role

Progress toward women and leadership goals goes hand-in-hand with inclusive company policies and attitudes. Companies with flexible work options and corporate cultures that encourage respect are the most likely to enjoy diversity at all levels, according to LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. Parental leave options for men and women do more to support women's leadership roles than policies focused on maternity leave alone. A fifth of women—and 40 percent of women in senior and technical roles—experience being the only woman in the room, according to the Lean In report. These women more frequently encounter gender-related biases than women in more diverse groups, the study said. Resolving these issues requires a sustained effort from the top down, including ensuring that women have opportunities to build relationships at all levels.

Provide access to mentors

Pairing women with mentors dramatically improves their visibility and access to senior leaders, increasing their chances for promotion. Mentorships provide ambitious, bright young employees with new perspectives and experiences. They also foster connections with individuals who can advocate for women's advancement and showcase their accomplishments, essential elements in bringing women and leadership together.

A whole-company effort

Equality may be an uphill battle, but managers at all levels have the power to work toward increasing diversity in leadership. Focus on training; ensuring equal access to power networks, internal promotions and chances to promote ideas. A culture that favors inclusion and diversity can provide leadership opportunities for women—while simultaneously building a stronger and more successful organization.

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