To transform leadership, we must increase the number of women leading. So how do we do it?

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Source: Unsplash/Toa Heftiba.

Successful businesses don’t get out of bed in the morning without knowing what their goals are for that week or month, or year, and how they’re going to achieve it. Good strategic business leaders know this implicitly.

The same mindset is needed in how we achieve equality of opportunity, reward and leadership for women. We’ve known for well over a decade that more women at the leadership table leads to better outcomes. Despite this knowledge, progress on gender equity in our workplaces remains slow. We can no longer afford to go slow. 

So, how do we do it? 

Here’s a framework for building your own gender equity strategy, that focuses on how we attract, recruit, develop and retain women.  

Step 1: Attracting

Getting more women into non-traditional and leadership roles requires a targeted approach

Whether it’s to encourage more women into sectors where men traditionally outnumber women, or to boost the leadership pipeline and representation at the executive table, getting women in the door requires a multifaceted approach.

  1. Have a Gender Equity Strategy in place. When women can see an organisation has gender equity as a genuine priority, they are more likely to consider a future there. 
  2. Build your organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice for women and promote what it has to offer.
  3. Manage a variety of recruitment strategies. For exmaple, setting gender targets, training to eliminate unconscious bias, and creating placement opportunities.

Step 2: Selection 

Recruitment processes need a comprehensive overhaul

Unconscious bias trumps the best of intentions when it comes to recruiting women. Consider the following tactics to mitigate this:

  • Educate and train your managers around embedded stereotypes and assumptions;
  • Ensure women are included in selection panels;
  • Implement a standard of gender-blind resume-screening;
  • Mind your language – verbal and non verbal. Candidates will be looking for clues about your values and culture. Is it inclusive, respectful, objective or dismissive, aggressive or narrow-minded? and
  • Are women consistently unsuccessful in selection processes, or not accepting job offers? Review what factors are at play, including asking candidates for feedback. 

Step 3: Development

Career and leadership development for women is key

Supporting the development of women, particularly into leadership roles, is crucial to redressing imbalances of representation.

In terms of foundational structures, we’re talking about: 

  • A leadership competency framework that outlines the capabilities that will drive success; 
  • An objective and standardised evaluation and assessment process for leadership candidates; 
  • Setting gender targets, underpinned by plans of action to meet those targets; and
  • Leadership development that looks beyond senior levels and accelerates women in the emerging phases of their career.

In terms of process, it’s about making development opportunities more inclusive and accessible, including:

  • Consideration of timing, mode and location of training; 
  • Providing support around family commitments; 
  • Encouraging and supporting internal and external networking for women; and
  • Training leaders to dismantle stereotypes about the work women can do.

Step 4: Retention

Foster an inclusive culture that engages, supports and empowers 

Attracting and recruiting women are clearly important steps to achieving gender equity, but it’s equally important that those women choose to stay. Consider how you are monitoring for levels of engagement in your business:

  • Do women feel empowered to contribute? 
  • Are women equitably rewarded, see real opportunities for advancement, and feel engaged with the organisation?
  • Is there an inclusive culture, where diversity is truly valued and supported, and where people feel like they belong?
  • Are you, as a business leader, modelling the culture that effectively embodies these principles?. 

Fostering an inclusive culture – one that recognises all the layers of identity that constitute the lived experience — is key to the success of any gender equity strategy. After all, people who feel they belong, are more likely to stay with an organisation and be able to contribute their best.

This is an extract from the whitepaper ‘Transforming Leadership – The art of increasing the number of women leading’ published by Dattner Group. You can download the full document at Dattner Group – Transforming Leadership.


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