In the City of London, women are progressing as leaders but there is much more to be done.
As an executive coach, I work with current and future women leaders across the City to support their development and career progress. Women are finding ways to strengthen their presence, harness their potential, initiate supportive relationships, focus on strategy and think like a leader. This is enabling them to fast track their careers and reach the leadership positions they are seeking. Women will continue to do this.
However, while women obviously have a critical role in progressing their own career, the organisations for which they work also have a vital part to play. Many highly successful organisations take this seriously and actively support the development of women leaders.
This is not just because supporting women’s equality is acknowledged as the right course morally, but because it makes business sense. Research shows, for example, that organisations with gender diverse boards perform better than all male boards. Also, at a time of skills shortages, it makes sense to nurture and retain the skills you have in house. With women making up around half the population, having senior levels match the profile of your customer base, makes sound business sense too. The list of reasons goes on.
>> Ensure strong sponsorship of women’s equal treatment from the top
As with any strategic initiative, strong sponsorship from the top of the organisation is key. This then needs to be cascaded down through the levels of leadership and management. It is important that this support is seen to be offered authentically. It can be very powerful when a male leader articulates personal reasons for his support as well commercial ones.
>> Put policies in place to facilitate this
The strategic direction needs to be supported by policies and systems to ensure a consistent approach to supporting and developing women across the organisation. This includes recruitment, development, promotion and reward policies etc. Flexible working is also key to many women as they seek to balance their professional career with family and other caring responsibilities, for example. Many organisations in the City still require women to be in the office most of the time. It is valuable to question whether, with today’s technology, more work could be done from home.
>> Introduce initiatives to support women's leadership development
These could include women’s networks, women leadership development programmes and mentoring. Coaching is also very valuable for women, especially at transition points. These include moving into a new role or returning from maternity leave as it enables the coachee to hit the ground running.
>> Gather data to monitor progress
Sound data about the current situation regarding women’s careers is needed to enable decisions to be made in full possession of the facts. Examples of data include percentage of women at each level of management and leadership, relative rates of pay between and men and women, relative average time until promotion at each level for men and women, women’s retention rates, the levels at which women typically leave and the reasons why they leave. This data needs to be carefully monitored and acted upon.
>> Handle "Unconscious Bias"
Unconscious bias needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Often people in key roles select a male for a management or leadership position because unconsciously they are seen as having more “leader-like” qualities. Our brains are still evolving to update our leadership templates from evolutionary perspectives where traditionally male qualities, such as physical power, was key to survival of the tribe. In order to address this unconscious bias, we have to critically examine our judgements around leadership. The best ways to address it is to bring this to a level of conscious awareness to ensure that when we are considering leaders and potential leaders, we are evaluating them against genuine criteria necessary for leadership success.
>> Involve men throughout the organisation
Men are a key part of the solution to the problem of insufficient women leaders. The more the issue of supporting the development of women leaders is seen to be of business benefit to the whole organisation, the better. Working together, men and women can each bring their perspectives and creativity to overcome the current barriers.
We have been talking about organisations but only the people in them can make a difference.
What is your role?
Are you part of the executive team?
Maybe you are a partner or a senior manager?
Perhaps you are a Human Resources, Learning & Development or Talent professional?
Or maybe you are seeking your first management position.
Everyone has the opportunity to work towards gender parity. What could you personally do to influence the direction of your organisation? Who could you mentor, for example?
Woman or man, which one action will you commit to taking to shift the cause of gender equality by one degree? The women in your organisation will thank you, as will the organisation itself and, for women yet to come, the world will have just become a little more equal.
It would be great to hear what you have found most effective in developing women leaders in your organisation. Please share these in the comments section below.