Five Ways to Help Women Leaders Reach (for) the Stars

In a recent survey of 22k companies around the world, nearly 33% lacked women in key leadership positions. Learn how organizations can help women become more “visible stars” and achieve success for themselves and the bottom line.

If we take the opportunity to slow down a bit and gaze up at a clear night sky, the universe appears to us in all of its star-studded glory. Looking at this amazing phenomenon through a telescope, we can home in on our favorite constellations like the Big and Little Dippers, Orion, Gemini and Taurus.
In a similar way, picture your organization as its own unique constellation within a universe of other companies competing around the globe. To get the best and brightest stars for your constellation, how can you prescriptively attract, retain, develop and promote the right individuals at the right time? 
In this blog, we’ll discuss ways organizations can help women leaders become more “visible stars” within the organizational firmament, and achieve success for themselves and the organization. In the second blog in this series, we’ll address Millennial advancement.
Women Leaders: Gazing at the stars through the “glass ceiling”
CNN Money recently noted that, “When it comes to leadership roles at public traded companies, it’s still no exaggeration that it’s man’s world.” That observation is based on research from the Peterson Institute for Internal Economics, which surveyed almost 22,000 companies in 91 countries and found that:
  • Nearly 33% of the companies had no women on their boards or in any C-Suite roles.
  • 60% had no female board members. 
  • 50% had no female top executives. 
  • More than 95% did not have a female CEO. 
Scarcity of female executives is bad for business according to the study. Organizations in which women comprised at least 30% of the “corporate constellation” typically reported higher profits than those with fewer females in high-profile senior roles.
Is there a “Bright Side”? 
An article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) provides a glimmer of hope. “Corporate boards in Europe have far more women than boards in the U.S., not because Europe is more progressive than we are, but because multiple European countries … have passed laws requiring 30-40% of board seats to go to women.” Should governments around the globe create similar edicts? Perhaps, but it is certainly a wake-up call to organizations to recalibrate their strategies around advancing women, especially since results point to the positive financial impact of having more women in executive roles. 
Five Steps to Raise the Visibility of Women Leaders in Your Organization:
  1. Retool your performance management strategy todemonstrate real commitment to implementing diversity through targeted promotional and recruiting strategies.
  2. Educate your leaders, top to bottom, to demonstrate full commitment to this cultural shift in that the best person for the job is  may look very different than the person who held it last
  3. Recalibrate mission-critical job descriptions, especially those at the top. Harvard Business Review notes that “women tend to take job descriptions at face value, and not apply for positions if they do not feel they have the skills or experience listed, while men are more likely to reach for jobs they are under qualified for.” This suggests companies should take a hard look at their job descriptions and make sure they emphasize the cognitive requirements for the position versus specific types of experience. Women, in turn, may be more likely to reach for the stars and apply for challenging positions.
  4. Shift your corporate culture toward greater collaboration and inclusion. Many of our clients are accelerating movement in this direction and establishing core values that, as one senior leader from a high tech company recently said, “make us behave less like ‘alpha males’ and more like people should—collaboratively and respectfully.” 
  5. Reset organizational paradigms. Getting people at all levels to push back on unhealthy conflict, finger pointing and talking over people, especially women, is a cultural best practice that will have a huge impact on your external branding. As your employee engagement numbers rise, so will your employee retention rates, client satisfaction rates and customer referrals. 
When organizations reconfigure talent management and leader development programs to truly value women’s contributions, that “black hole” in the constellation will fade away as women no longer gravitate to jobs for which they are over-qualified, away from high impact roles, or leave the organization for better opportunities. 
Related Articles: 
Women in Technology: Accelerating Leadership Development
Are You Getting Women in the Door, but Not on the Elevator?
Women and Leadership: What is Your Culture Mirroring?