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Accelerating the development of female talent

Photo by Keren Levand on Unsplash

Written by Helen Hambleton, Founder and CEO of People Untapped.

Women are leaving the workforce in their thousands and the retention and acceleration of talent mid-career continues to be a pressing problem. Even when the early-stage career pipeline has a gender balance, the upper levels of leadership routinely are not diverse from gender perspective.

What’s the root cause of the issue?

First things first, like all business problems, it is important to get to the root cause of the issue. So often, organisations focus on measuring lag indicators, or outcome metrics. They measure the numbers of women in senior roles, the gender pay gap, the number of women in succession pipelines for critical roles. But none of this tells us ‘why’ there is a drop off in the pipeline mid-career.

In order to find the right range of solutions we have to get to understanding the mindset, the capabilities, attitudes, the culture within the organisation, and the motivators of the individuals within it in relation to their careers.

Research from The Female Lead has shown that typically the challenges are multifactorial, and neither one singular cause, nor one singular solution exist. So, getting better data at an organisation level about the fulfilment and engagement of your own female populations, gives insight that you can then act upon.

But what can organisations do about it?

Here are some of the interventions that we have seen organisations implement, which collectively start to shift the long-term dial on gender diversity at senior leadership levels. One item alone will not make the difference, and no intervention will change things overnight.

Allyship – inviting senior male leaders to overtly talk about what they are actively doing to turn the tide of bias, not making male leaders ‘bad’, but helping them to understand the problems and their role in generating the solutions.

Maternity coaching – specific 1:1 support for women transitioning out of and then back into the workplace – enabling them to come back at their very best (at a point where they may feel less self-confident).

Review policies and processes through a mid-career drop-off lens – which policies inadvertently stall or slow women’s careers compared to their male counterparts e.g. payment of bonuses / pay rises / promotion decisions during maternity leave

Enable networking beyond natural work groups – we aren’t all in competition with one another, and creating networking opportunities (during working hours, not centered around a pub or a golf course!) can build coalitions of ambitious female leaders within the organisation. And this need not be exclusively for women, mixed gender groups are critical.

Identifying role models – enabling senior female leaders to share their own career stories publicly, mentoring and sponsoring others at mid-career level proactively.

Nomination for minority specific targeted leadership programmes – targeted development investment in those that have leadership potential can tangibly improve the engagement and unlock potential. In addition to building capability these programmes acknowledge the aspiration we know women have but sometimes organisations assume they don’t.

Flexible working for all – not just below a certain grade or level, and not just policy but practice. It says a lot when senior leaders work flexibly (male and female) and are encouraged to do so.

Enforcing diverse candidate pools for open leadership roles - but not just to make up the numbers, actively considering all candidates & giving them all equal opportunity for success.

Telling the world. Organisations (and the women within them) overtly publicizing to their employees and their customers that they are proactively turning the tide, what they are doing and the impact it is having. This is not about lip service!

About the Breakthrough Leadership Programme

Here at People Untapped, we are launching a unique female leadership development programme, for organisations who are looking to improve the gender balance of their senior leadership populations through a proactive talent and leadership development strategy.

This gold-standard 8-month leadership programme with both group development workshops and 1:1 executive coaching to blend development of common leadership capabilities plus the unique nature of each individual’s situation.

The programme is aimed at mid-career, high performing, high potential female talent – women that organisations really believe can be the leaders of tomorrow. It’s not about ‘fixing’ women, it’s about taking a group of smart, ambitious women, and equipping them with the leadership skills to shine, breaking through the deceleration of their careers which often happens at this point (for many reasons as research has shown).

It’s aimed at organisations that want to be part of something bigger in the world as it is a cross-organisational programme with all profits going to funding the educational work of The Female Lead.

To find out more information visit The Breakthrough Leadership Programme website


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