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Three Ways to Develop and Retain Women Leaders

Do you have the right HR strategies in place to develop and retain women leaders in your organization? Having more women in leadership roles could encourage greater employee engagement and performance, helping you compete in today’s challenging business environment.

The Women’s Leadership Gap

Despite the many gains women have experienced in business, they are still greatly underrepresented in leadership roles. While women make up half of the U.S. workforce, they only account for 30% of S&P 500 directors and a mere 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Additionally, a recent McKinsey study shows for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. This means women face a “broken rung” early on as they climb the career ladder, shrinking women’s leadership pipeline.

The COVID-19 pandemic also dealt a serious blow to women’s participation in the workforce. Women have accounted for 70% of lost jobs in the past two years and one million are still absent from the workforce. The World Economic Forum recently noted that, given current trends, closing the global gender gap would take more than 135 years.

A lack of women leaders isn’t just bad for progress, it’s also bad for business. Studies have shown that employees are more satisfied and perform better under women leaders. In today’s job market, where turnover remains high and attracting talent is challenging, having a happier, more engaged workforce could save you thousands in recruiting and hiring costs.

Three ways to develop and retain women leaders

With the right HR strategies in place, you can position women in your organization to maximize their full potential and lead your business to success. Here’s how:

1. Make flexibility the new normal

Millions of women exited the workforce over the past two years due to extreme burnout and a lack of childcare. Offering flexibility is key to developing and retaining more women leaders because it supports gender equity and removes many barriers to workforce participation. These arrangements could include:

  • Fully remote or hybrid work-from-home options

  • Flex time

  • Compressed work weeks

  • On-site childcare or childcare allowance/reimbursement benefits

  • Space for pumping/breastfeeding (and time built into women’s schedules to accommodate these needs)

Not only will offering flexibility encourage women to stay with your organization longer, but it will also improve their ability to rise in the ranks.

2. Address gender bias in your organization

Women are often prevented from stepping into leadership roles based on unconscious stereotypes. In a recent study from the MIT Sloan School of Management, women received higher performance ratings than their male colleagues but ranked 8.3% lower for having “potential.” As a result, women were 14% less likely to receive promotions. Taking steps to address unconscious bias in your leadership development and employment practices can create equality and promote more women into leadership roles.

  • Create a data-informed leadership pipeline - Develop a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy for your leadership pipeline that includes gender-representation goals and metrics. This will allow you to track the equity of promotions and performance evaluations, identify leadership gaps, and gauge progress toward your representation goals.

  • Conduct a compensation audit - For every dollar men earn, women earn 82 cents. Periodically evaluate your pay structure to identify unintentional inequities and make adjustments. Pay audits will help your business successfully develop and retain women leaders, while avoiding costly penalties and litigation in relation to pay discrimination.

  • Train your workforce to recognize unconscious bias - Conduct unconscious bias training for employees and managers especially those in charge of hiring and promotions within your organization.

3. Provide women the tools they need to succeed

To develop and retain more women leaders, it's important to provide resources to support their success.

  • Mentorship - Establish a peer advisory program where women can learn leadership skills and get career advice from other women leaders.

  • Career development planning - Create a career-development plan for all employees, so women can set goals for themselves, track their progress and feel confident in their ability to advance in their career path and within your organization.

Find ways to regularly communicate the availability of these development opportunities to your staff. This will help women feel encouraged to participate and supported in their efforts to advance within your organization. When women are empowered to grow and step into leadership roles, it strengthens your workforce, supports a more inclusive work environment, and improves business results.

Want strategies for developing women leaders?

We can design customized training workshops to empower women leaders in your organization. Our trained workshop facilitators possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise to engage and develop your workforce.


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