How to encourage, retain and develop women leaders

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Despite overwhelming evidence that organisations with diverse leadership teams perform better and are more innovative, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. 

Given the compelling business rationale, progressive organisations worldwide are actively working towards promoting and supporting women in leadership

By recognising and valuing the contributions of women, we tap into a wealth of talent that can drive our organisations to new levels of success. 

The world is changing, and companies that aren’t prioritising accelerating women in the workplace are at a disadvantage.

Improving gender equality in the workplace requires a shifting of the systems that have created this inequality rather than isolated actions. The actions required for increasing the representation of women, and importantly, developing the conditions and cultures that enable them to thrive.  

Here we highlight some of the actions that organisations take to shift the needle on women’s representation: 

Stand up and stand beside women

No one can achieve greatness on their own. Leaders need a network of champions that can provide guidance, support and advocacy.  

One of the best ways to support women is to link them with mentors and sponsors. Mentors can give career advice and serve as a sounding board for new ideas, while sponsors can help women progress within the organisation and secure exciting new opportunities. Furthermore, mentors can use their knowledge of women’s journeys to improve the conditions and cultures to benefit women and everyone that the systems have traditionally worked against.  

Organisations can set up mentorship programs to match women with experienced leaders who offer advice and guidance. Additionally, senior leaders can sponsor women who display promise and provide them with chance to develop their capabilities and accelerate their career growth.

Remove barriers for carers

It’s a sad reality that women are disproportionately represented in caring for the young and elderly. To create an inclusive workplace, employers should provide flexible schedules, remote work, and job sharing options to remove barriers for carers. 

McKinsey and Lean In’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report reveals:

49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company.

By providing these options, women can also engage with their careers while balancing family responsibilities and other commitments. Flexible work options for all also enables greater sharing of carer responsibilities across men and women.

Organisations that prioritise flexible work arrangements are sending a powerful message: we value our employees as whole people.

Invest in professional development

To truly empower women, organisations need to invest in their ongoing professional development. It’s not just about checking boxes or meeting quotas – it’s about recognising the immense value that women bring to the table and supporting them to achieve their full potential faster.

From 1-to-1 coaching and targeted development programs to networking events and mentorship opportunities, there are countless ways that organisations can invest in the professional development of their female employees. By providing these resources, organisations equip women with the tools to flourish and succeed.

Foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity

Creating the conditions and culture that enable all employees to thrive is critical. Even when organisations are closer to, or have gender balance, women can still face significant disadvantages. 

Organisations that foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity are more likely to retain and develop women. This means valuing and celebrating diverse perspectives and experiences, and actively promoting diversity and equality through policies, practices, and programs.

Our experience is that you cannot increase women’s representation without shifting entrenched workplace systems and practices that impede it. By doing so, conditions and cultures will not only serve to benefit women, but everyone these systems have traditionally worked against. 

Some steps organisations can take to create an environment for women to thrive include:  

  • Implementing flexible working arrangements that allow for a better work-life balance 
  • Adopting a zero-tolerance stance on gender discrimination and harassment  
  • Establishing mentoring and support programs for women
  • Establishing employee resource groups for women 
  • Ensuring that pay is equitable  
  • Offering paid parental leave  
  • Enabling career advancement opportunities  
  • Cultivating an environment of open dialogue and inclusion  

It also means providing unconscious bias training to help employees recognise and challenge their biases, and creating affinity groups for women to connect with others who share their experiences and perspectives.

Provide accelerated leadership opportunities

Providing women with accelerated opportunities to take on leadership roles and demonstrate their capabilities is another key element. This includes assigning them to lead teams or projects and giving them opportunities to participate in cross-functional initiatives.

By investing in women in leadership, organisations can create a culture of inclusivity and diversity that not only benefits women but also promotes innovation and growth.

Organisations that invest in their female employees will reap the benefits and will be better positioned to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

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