The role of HR in developing women leaders is critical but not easy. It has many facets requiring close business partnering and strategic thinking, as well as practical, detailed planning to support individual women in the talent pipeline. Human Resources, Learning and Development and talent professionals are uniquely placed to influence an organisation's approach to developing one of its key underutilised resources: its female talent.
Some of the challenges faced by HR in supporting women leaders were reinforced for me when speaking recently to an HR Manager in a City Law Firm. She was passionate about developing the senior associates in the firm but was struggling to make progress. As a leader herself she also acknowledged some areas she wished to work on personally. However, she was not encouraged to do this in the way she wanted to, which was reducing her impact in working to support other women in the organisation.
HR professionals can support the development of current and future women leaders in their organisation in many ways:
1. Be a Genuine Business Partner - By working with the top team, HR can ensure that optimising talent remains firmly and consistently on the agenda . Similarly, working with all levels of line manager is key to making sure that women are seen as potential candidates for future roles and given the support to ready them for these.
2. Ensure Women Are Considered More For Key Profit and Loss Roles - To reach the most senior leadership roles candidates, both men and women need to have the right track record and experience. Frequently this will include having succeeded at previous P&L roles. Historically, women have tended to focus less on such roles, often becoming technical specialists instead. This can hamper them later in their career. HR can help ensure that women identified as being of high potential, are exposed to such roles throughout their careers and are given the support and tools to succeed.
3. Work Closely With Line Managers - It is well known that line managers have a profound impact on an employee's experience at work - for better or worse. Sometimes line managers - both male and female, do not support their direct reports as well as they might and this can be a major stumbling block to women's development. A specific example of this is where an organisation proudly communicates its flexible working policies but individual line managers choose not to implement them. While this can negatively impact both men and women, for women at certain stages of their careers and lives, this lack of flexibility can make it make it incredibly hard for some women to balance their professional and personal commitments.
4. Encourage Sponsorship and Mentoring Initiatives - To help women succeed, having senior sponsors in the organisation can have be very beneficial. Similarly having a mentor to support a leader's development is very valuable. By creating a culture of sponsorship and mentoring and, where appropriate, frameworks, HR can make positive difference to developing female talent.
5. Run a Women's Network - Running networks which focus on women's development can be very valuable. It gives women a safe space to learn from more senior women and network with others facing potentially similar challenges. Some organisations choose to open their women's networks to men too. This can be a powerful statement of equality and also fundamentally acknowledges the fact that to support more women in becoming and remaining women leaders, men are a part of the solution.
6. Offer Coaching and Other Leadership Development Support - Offering women development throughout career can be very powerful. This can include leadership development programmes and executive coaching. At key moments of transition, such as into a new leadership position, coaching can be particularly powerful.
7. Continue to Focus on Your Own Leadership Development - In order to play the key leadership role described above, it is likely that you personally may benefit from some ongoing development. Reflecting on the 5 key dimensions of Thinking Choices' SHIFT framework of leadership development, where would you like to develop further: Strengthen Your Presence: Harness Your Potential; Initiate Supportive Relationships; Focus on Strategy and Think Like Leader?
You are Invited To An HR Breakfast - Thursday 22 September 9.00am-12.00pm To find out more about how you can support your organisation to optimise its female talent and how to continue your own leadership development, you are invited to an HR Breakfast this Thursday.
Please follow the link below to find out more and to book a place. We do hope you can join us!