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Catalysts of Success: Unveiling the Top 3 Drivers for Women's Career Progression in 2024

International Women's Day, Skills Building, Top 3 Career Drivers

International Women's Day (IWD) 2024 is a great opportunity to celebrate the progress we've made in opening up more opportunities for women in the workplace while also recommitting to making even more progress. As you're getting ready for your IWD celebrations, here's a trio of key insights to keep in mind to make your events truly impactful.

  • Highlight the importance of high-visibility projects

  • Educate mentors

  • Provide opportunities for learning transfer

1. Why Experience Is Everything

Key projects and the visibility that comes with them are one of the drivers of women’s career advancement. A three-year global research study that I conducted while still at IBM's Smarter Workforce Institute showed that what women want most for their personal career satisfaction boils down to:

Being part of an organisation that uses objective and fair HR processes,

Having a boss who's in their corner, rooting for their career goals, and

The chance to dive into career planning activities.

Interestingly, when we shifted our focus to what actually boosts the chances of women getting promoted, the above factors took a back seat. Instead, the big three drivers for climbing the ladder were:

  • High-Visibility Assignments - Provide the stage where women's talent can be seen in action.

  • Networking with Decision-Makers - Enable access to the places where future-shaping decisions are made.

  • Risk-Taking in Career Moves - Encourage women to take and support bold career steps.

Leadership experiences alone accounted for a quarter of the difference in promotion outcomes. Given that women and minority talents often have to go the extra mile to prove their mettle, it's crucial to highlight for women which experiences matter most and how they can get access to these opportunities.

We're talking about game-changing leadership experiences such as handling operations, navigating new environments, leading teams, managing budgets, spearheading growth, kick-starting something new, turning around a failing project, or leading a special project. 

Interested in finding out more? I dive deeper into these experiences in my book, Where Have All the Senior Women Gone? 9 Critical Job Assignments for Women Leaders.

2. Mentoring: When It Works and When It Doesn't

Mentoring often comes up as a go-to strategy to bridge the gender gap in leadership. Yet, it's not always the magic bullet for advancing women's careers, especially when compared to men's careers. The crux of the matter lies in the nature of mentoring women receive—it needs to be more about active sponsorship than just advice. Women benefit immensely when they can leverage the influence and networks of powerful mentors, gaining access to senior circles and critical leadership experiences.

Research with my former IBM colleague Dr Susan D’Mello highlighted that adhering to gender norms influences the quality of mentoring received, with women facing more significant penalties for deviating from these expectations. This underscores the need for mentoring programs that not only educate on effective mentoring techniques but also tackle stereotypes head-on.

3. Creating Opportunities for  Effective Learning Transfer

IWD events are prime venues for leadership skills training. Popular workshop topics for women leaders include Resilience, High-Performance Mindset, Creative Thinking, Courageous Conversations, and Assertiveness and Influencing. The challenge lies in applying these skills in the workplace, as it's easy to revert to familiar habits under pressure.

Linking new skills to meaningful projects and leveraging technology for reminders and encouragement can significantly enhance the application and retention of these skills. This brings us back to high-visibility projects and mentors. Working on a high-visibility project, with the support of a fully trained mentor, can be a great opportunity to apply new learning.

Incorporating these three strategies into your IWD 2024 programme can significantly impact the career trajectories of your female talent, ensuring that the celebration leaves a lasting and meaningful legacy.

For more ideas about how to boost your women’s career advancement, you may also want to take a look at these blogs:

International Roles. Career Accelerator or Career Barrier?


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