How to Design a Women’s Development Program
Last month, Everwise hosted a popular webinar on “Designing a Women’s Development Program” with Kelly Simmons, a Solution Architect at the Center for Creative Leadership. A specialist in applying systems thinking to organizational, team and individual leadership development, Kelly has merged a solution-focused approach with learning and development, culture change, coaching and facilitation to engage organizations to meet the wide range of situations that they face. She offered to share her expertise with our community on how to establish a women’s development program that works for your organization, supports behavior change, creates lasting impact and influences employee retention. Here are key takeaways from the webinar:
Impact Performance and Satisfaction
Companies with diverse leadership teams and inclusive cultures perform better. They are more agile, innovative and higher performing. Catalyst has found that Fortune 500 companies that have the highest percentage of women on boards outperform those with the lowest percentage of women on boards. Yet, despite the clear value of having a diverse workforce including improved job satisfaction, increased employee retention and higher returns on sales, investment capital and equity, women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions across organizations of all sizes.
According to the Women in the Workplace Report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, women make up only 21% of SVP roles and 20% of C-Suite roles. This challenge is particularly acute when it comes to women of color with just 4% of SVP roles and 3% of C-Suite roles. Women make up only 10% of full-time engineers and less than 15% of executives in the technology sector. The sector is struggling not only to attract women but to retain them as well: only 34% of women stay in engineering 15 years post degree and women are twice as likely as men to leave.
Build a healthy and inclusive culture
At the first critical step up to manager, women are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers. Women have to work harder for career-promoting assignments. When they do receive them, they are often glass cliff assignments: difficult situations given to a woman to test her capabilities. “Men do receive more challenging assignments with a bit more scaffolding and support and a little bit less risk,” says Kelly. Overall, men get more credit for successes they drive and women get blamed for failure rather than success.
Gaps in promotion and high attrition rates are two signs that it’s time to create a women’s leadership development program within your organization. The first step is to identify if and where there is a problem within the organization. Collect relevant demographic data on promotions and attrition. Compare and contrast this data to national benchmarks to better understand the unique challenges within your organization. Do some qualitative research to determine not only what is happening but also the perception of what is happening within your organization.
Tailor the leadership program for all levels
Armed with this data, an organization can create solutions around culture and leadership development. It’s not just about bringing the right people on board but ensuring that the culture is one in which they can succeed and that advances an organization’s leadership strategy. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Initiatives to get and keep women in senior leadership positions differ from those designed to identify future leaders in the organization.
There are many ways to attract, retain and develop women in leadership at all levels. The path for success begins by understanding that all women do not want the same thing. The most successful programs allow for individual goal setting and resources. Creating and nurturing relationships with mentors, sponsors and peers who can help advance their careers and expose them to the more challenging work will help them land future leadership positions. Change requires time. When designing a program, be sure to track the progress of your initiatives: How many women are actually being advanced? How is the company changing as a result?
One of the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles is by giving them opportunities to learn on the job. Employees are 2.6 times more engaged when learning on the job and yet 55% of employees do not regularly extract learning from their work. The more time employees spend on challenging tasks, the higher their promotabilty ratings from bosses. Providing women with more opportunities to lead in visible ways means that they will get more chances to shine on bigger projects and hence, get promotions. Select assignments to support growth. Help them get clear on learning goals and build the necessary support systems. By creating feedback loops, they can consistently get feedback and develop the skills they need to succeed.
A program designed for lasting impact is based on a 70/20/10 model of learning: 70% challenging assignments, 20% other people, and 10% coursework and training. This formula offers women opportunities to learn and helps organizations create lasting cultural and behavioral change.
Create a dedicated support system for women
Networking is widely touted as a means for opening doors for growth and advancement. Mentorship in particular is important for developing critical skills, increasing visibility among senior leaders, connecting them to sponsorship and preparing them for leadership roles. Women have less access to these opportunities. In fact, men are 42% more likely to have sponsors than women.
According to Kelly, programs geared towards women allow for a structured reflection on identity and a safe space for women to think out loud, process the information and practice new approaches. Women really appreciate having a connected and open network to sustain and push them on the journey. Not only do women develop more confidence in their abilities but also in the organization’s commitment to women, diversity and diverse leadership. It speaks volumes about what the organization values and how it is working to create a thriving and inclusive workplace.
The reality is it’s not possible to do this with just women. Men also have a very important role to play as advocates, mentors and sponsors. Helping them become stewards of culture, support positive behavior and learn about implicit biases will facilitate dialogue and change within your organization.
With the right combination of challenging opportunities, mentorship, networking and training, organizations can begin to balance their leadership teams with greater diversity. To do this Kelly advises tracking the data to support women’s leadership development, creating a healthy and inclusive culture, tailoring programs to account for leadership growth at all levels and acknowledging that women benefit from a dedicated support system. The investment in empowering women and creating a culture that brings more women into leadership roles will be worth the effort. Men and women with female bosses report more job satisfaction resulting in better retention. And a good program has a ripple effect internally and externally – 264 participants in one study touched 9,900 lives – allowing your leaders to expand their influence beyond your organization to impact the community around them as well.
View a recording of the webinar here.