Today there are more women than men in undergraduate institutions, business schools, and most large companies. But you won’t find many women in senior leadership positions. The reason for this is culture: the old-school mentality that feeds off gender bias and assumes women can excel without professional support and that it’s okay to exclude them from management roles.
This needs to change. And to do so, companies can jumpstart the process by doing three things: mentor female employees, offer dedicated leadership training programs, and change the culture to provide more flexibility where and when work gets done. These initiatives will not only increase the number of women in senior roles, but also create businesses with diverse workforces open to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and change the culture of the organization at the same time. Which in turn will create more engaging workplaces and more nimble companies, able to quickly assess their customers’ needs and better serve them.
Mentoring can occur informally or formally but needs to come from the top. Already, many large organizations are moving past golf outings as the requirement for one-on-one time with executives, and are hosting programs such as women-only speed-networking events. These programs, and other longer-term types of mentoring programs, introduce junior female professionals to senior leaders, and allow junior employees to pose business-specific and career-related questions to managers, learn and work alongside managers, and understand what it takes to succeed in large organizations. A byproduct of these programs is they’re often the first step toward gaining support to take on high-profile assignments, which can lead to recognition and, later, to promotions.
Talent may be innate, but expertise comes from practice. Generally, behaviorists believe it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field. Even at 40 hours a week, 10,000 hours requires a five-year commitment. Which means growth is a long-term investment for companies. Still, many businesses considered leaders in their fields are making that investment. Google, for example, offers numerous on-site leadership training (and re-training) courses to their employees. Microsoft encourages its employees to visit local schools to teach others how to learn, bolstering the leadership skills of its current as well as future workforce. These companies, along with teaching employees technical skills, offer interpersonal classes and leadership training directed at helping women take on more senior roles, thus creating an environment that encourages women’s achievements.
Flexible work programs
Some days call for heading out at early for a doctor’s appointment, media event, or a child’s soccer game. To that end, earlier this year, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg became the first woman named to the social networking giant’s board of directors; Sandberg is clearly a powerhouse—and one who famously leaves the office at 5:30 p.m. each evening to spend time with her family. Indeed, excelling for women no longer simply means equal pay, it also means achieving overall job satisfaction.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her much talked-about and commented-on July 2012 Atlantic article entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” extensively discusses the preconceptions many employers have about time spent in the office. Slaughter writes that when she worked for Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Clinton deliberately left the office by 7 p.m. to encourage her employees to leave as well (Clinton and her employees would do more work later in the evenings—but at home, not in the office). Slaughter also notes that too often employers view activities such as marathon running—waking up early to exercise—as more commendable than waking up early to pack lunches for children. That’s an assumption, she writes, which needs to change.
Deb DeHaas, chief inclusion officer for Deloitte LLP, is another executive who strongly supports the notion of work isn’t where you go—it’s what you do. Today’s workforce seeks a work-life fit that is sustainable. Because each individual has his or her own version of “what works,” Deloitte takes a comprehensive approach to address the changing work-life needs of its people, offering a variety of options to take a break, de-stress, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and provide flexibility around how, where, and when work gets done.
So what can you do to help support women in the workplace? If you’re a woman, start by raising your hand for projects that garner visibility, both for you and your company. And tell decision makers about the contributions you and others have made. In addition, find out about the mentoring and training programs your company offers. If they’re not extensive enough (or nonexistent), see what you can do to encourage decision makers to increase these offerings. And if you’re a manager, give your employees the benefit of the doubt: trust that they are more productive and engaged when they have the flexibility they need, which benefits you and the company you work for. And, no matter your level, trust that your support of others increases the likelihood that they’ll support you. After all, encouraging one another strengthens company culture, and a shift in culture is what we need.
This post was sponsored by Deloitte.
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