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Leadership for Women: Turning Analysis into Action.

Byline: Sheila Burke, Tim Lupinacci

Editor's note: This four-part series on developing pathways to leadership for women. Click on the link to read the first part, "Pathways to Leadership for Women: Building a Roadmap to Success," and the second part, "A Course in Leadership for Women: Establish Goals and Measure Leaders."

In the first half of this four-part series, we described specific ways to develop an actionable roadmap for success in growing gender diversity in your company's leadership.

This included analyzing where your company currently stands, securing company leader buy-in to your efforts, developing goals and implementing focused feedback. These initial efforts help create a game plan for implanting measurable long term gains in increasing leadership opportunities for women both in your company and in the community.

Even more important than outlining a roadmap, to ensure success, however, every company must move from analysis to action. The second half of this series focuses on such action.

1. Engaging Training.

It is important to recognize that your focus should not be solely on increasing women in leadership within your company. A robust women's initiative must train existing leaders on how to sponsor, mentor and assist women in their group to grow in their leadership potential and opportunities.

This includes not just within the company, but also for industry and community opportunities. One of the best ways is providing substantive, relevant and entertaining training for existing company leaders that includes practical action steps, accountability and tools they can use in managing their respective group.

Some of the most effective ways to train current leaders on advancing women into positions of leadership is to secure a recurring opportunity to present at regular company leadership meetings, annual leadership retreats, or other internal meetings, webinars or conference calls. Ensuring a recurring and regular dialogue will heighten awareness and signify to the company's leaders that promoting and improving gender diversity (and all diversity) in leadership is a core tenet upon which the company operates.

While it is important to secure the recurring opportunity to present training to the company's management group, it is perhaps more critical for the training to then provide value to the managers, including easily implemented action steps. Amidst standard company meetings centered around "death by PowerPoint", it is important that your presentations be innovative, creative and provides practical information that managers can use in their day-to-day leadership.

Early on, we stumbled upon an effective way to present training that used feedback from existing leaders. Given our firm's name, we focused training on a "Baker's Dozen" theme with 13 specific action items that managers could take from the program. In building out the 13 steps that managers could implement in supporting gender diversity, we surveyed existing leaders about steps they had previously taken under the topic.

During the actual training sessions, we called on the individual leaders, many of whom were men, to tell the other leaders what they had done. This not only signified broader buy-in from top management as the leader had the opportunity to talk about something they had done, but it also gave that leader some "face time" among other leaders. It was a win-win approach to presenting important information and training to the entire leadership team.

By way of example, the first training we did using this format was "A Baker's Dozen on Practical Tips to Advance Women in Your Group." While some of the suggestions received from the survey of leaders were very basic actions that likely would not have made it onto a top 13 list we created (such as "I approved marketing funds for a woman on my team to attend a national conference"), we felt it was important to highlight even basic steps that some men were taking in supporting women.

This helped increase buy-in and support across the board as leaders heard what others were doing as "best practices". We turned this feedback, along with other more progressive suggestions we added, into a guide for leaders to use in their respective groups.

We utilized the "Bakers Dozen" approach to other topics, such as "A Bakers Dozen in How to Instill Confidence in the Women You Lead" based on the book "The Confidence Code". Other training programs that we have sponsored for firm leadership, include "Providing Effective Feedback to Women", "How to Successfully Plan and Host a Women's Event at Industry Conferences" and "The Importance of Sponsoring Women".

Following the discussion about sponsoring women, as distinct from a mentoring relationship, we provided a copy of the Ida Abbott book "Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know" to each firm manager. We also challenged each leader at the meeting to identify and submit to the Pathways to Leadership committee one woman they committed to sponsor. We also had secured agreement of the firm's CEO to enter a sponsoring relationship with the chair of the firm's Women's Initiative Committee as an example.

2. Building the Leadership Team

In order to improve pathways to leadership within your company, you must challenge how your business goes about selecting its leaders. In our experience, while there is no overt discrimination involved in selecting leadership for significant leadership positions, inherent bias is a risk. It is a fact that absent intentional focus on diversity in leadership, the potential exists that individuals or committees will select someone very similar in background, race and gender. Even with the best intentions, unintended stereotyping can be at play.

At a recent leadership conference, we heard a well-respected senior executive at a major global company detail how, in considering two very similar candidates with similar personality and background for a position, she joined with the majority in the group identifying the male candidate who was viewed as more passionate and visionary. A male colleague in the decision process, however, called her out suggesting that she was discounting the woman candidate with identical characteristics and traits but who was dismissed as bossy and aggressive for an identical approach to management. The executive realized that she had fallen victim to inherent bias and failed to identify the best person for the job and the team they would be leading.

We considered how open leadership positions were filled at our firm for department chairs, practice group leaders and office managing shareholders (as distinct from our board nomination process). Under existing policies, the decision for these important leadership roles was made by the firm COO.

While in practice, our COO sought broad input in filling open leadership spots for these positions, the decision largely rested with one individual. We determined the need to broaden the discussion and decision process when leadership positions became available. We opened dialogue for ways that the system could provide for broader input into this important decision making process, including ensuring that diverse candidates are considered for every open senior leadership position and requiring feedback into the candidates from the firm's existing Women's Initiative and Diversity Committee leaders.

Studies show that increasing the group of individuals charged with decision making in filling leadership positions leads to greater diversity of opinion and outcome in identifying the best person for that role. Developing a more robust feedback loop in identifying and considering replacement leaders will result in broader feedback and increased transparency for the process. This also ensures consistency in application and broad-based confidence in the system.

In the final article in this series, we highlight the importance of two more actionable steps: a mentoring program that involves high performing leaders and using information templates to provide deliberate and intentional reminders of a commitment to diversity
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Publication:Inside Counsel Breaking News
Date:Jan 17, 2017
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