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3 things that will accelerate the careers of your female talent

International Women’s Day 2020 is a great opportunity to celebrate the progress of women’s improved opportunities at work while reconfirming commitment to further improvements . If you are planning to mark IWD next March, here are three things to consider as you are planning your programme of event(s).

Three years’ worth of global research that I conducted while at IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute showed repeatedly that women’s personal satisfaction with their career progression opportunities is driven by

1. working for an organisation with objective and fair HR processes,

2. having a manager who supports the woman’s career aspiration, and

3. the ability to engage in career planning activities.

1. Experience matters

However, when we turned to examine what drives the number of women’s promotions, these factors were no longer important. Instead, the top three drivers were:

  1. having high-visibility assignments such as international roles, change management or turnaround projects on the CV; at TalUpp, we now call these assignments Leadership Experiences

  2. being networked with senior decision-makers in the organisation, and

  3. being ready to take risks with new roles

Having had one or more of these leadership experiences on the CV accounted for over 25% of the difference between being promoted and not being promoted. This is not surprising as minority talent are less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt and must prove themselves before being appointed to senior roles. It is therefore important to help women understand that experience matters, which leadership experiences are particularly valued by an organisation and how to develop those experiences that a woman may not yet have had exposure to.

There are about 10 highly developmental leadership experiences which also help to raise visibility in the organisation. These are:

  • Operational experience

  • Unfamiliar environment

  • People management

  • Financial accountability

  • Global remit

  • Growth

  • Change management

  • Start-up

  • Turnaround

  • Special project

I explore these leadership experiences in depth in my book Where Have All the Senior Women Gone? 9 Critical Job Assignments for Women Leaders.

2. Mentoring can deliver benefits – but only in certain situations

While mentoring is a frequently used solution to address women’s under-representation in senior roles, overall, it does not work as well for women’s career advancement as it does for men. One of the reasons is that the type of mentoring that women receive is often not effective enough. Career advice and guidance are not enough to help women’s career. Women need active championing which is more akin to sponsorship than mentoring. Women need to ‘borrow’ the social capital that more powerful mentors can bestow upon them. They also need access to senior decision-makers and access to leadership experiences in the form of stretch roles. Another challenge is that women often have less powerful mentors than men and they may be subject to gender stereotypes which impact the quality of the mentoring they receive.

In exploratory research, my former colleague Susan D’Mello and I found that in most cases both women and men were rewarded for behaving in line with gender expectations. However, the quality of women’s mentoring suffered more than that of their male colleagues when women’s behaviour deviated from gender norms. As would be expected, being disorganised and easily upset decreased mentoring quality for both men and women, but it did so much more significantly for women than men. Furthermore, while both men and women were more likely to receive mentoring when they were seen to be sympathetic and warm, this was much more pronounced for women. Finally, while being disagreeable and quarrelsome significantly reduced women’s likelihood of being mentored, it increased the chances of men getting mentoring. These findings point to different, potentially gendered expectations that mentors may have of their female and male mentees.

To ensure that mentoring programmes achieve significant improvements for female mentees’ careers, both mentors and mentees must be trained about what types of mentoring makes a real difference and what stereotypes may get in the way of high-quality mentoring support.

3. Effective learning transfer requires a compelling event

IWD events are a great opportunity to bring together female talent and provide leadership skills training. As an investment in the organisation’s current and future leaders, such training should focus on equipping female talent for a VUCA world where success is dependent on agility, innovation and prototyping, resilience and influencing. I talk at length about these leadership behaviours in my new book Accelerated Leadership Development. How to turn your top talent into leaders.

Some of our most popular workshops for women leaders’ programmes are:

  • Resilience

  • High-Performance Mindset

  • Creative Thinking for a Disrupted World

  • Courageous Conversations

  • Assertiveness and Influencing

Applying new skills back at work requires encouragement and a compelling reason; 80% of new learning is lost within 7 days without actively applying our newly acquired skills. We have all experienced personally how hard it can be to turn our intentions of doing things differently after a training course into real action. There just never seems to be enough time to structure that presentation differently or to try that new negotiation strategy. When we are under time pressure, we revert to what we know best and what we have always done.

Where we can tie newly acquired skills to a specific project that matters to us we increase the likelihood of learning transfer. We can increase it further by providing a helping hand with technology which can remind us to apply new skills, help us to get incrementally better and celebrate successes with us as we meet new milestones.

Incorporating one or more of the three elements in this blog post will ensure that your 2020 IWD celebrations will have a lasting impact.


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