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10 Steps to Better Gender Balance in Leadership
Businesses leave money on the table and forfeit their strategic advantage if they don't have women well-represented on their boards and senior management teams.
Gender balance in corporate leadership roles doesn’t come from an academic or social perspective, but from a grounded, experienced executive’s point of view.
The reason why we need the shift in attitude and change toward putting more women as leaders really has to do with money - something that all businesses need to make.
Companies with gender-balanced boards and more women in senior management consistently achieve better financial performance. And it’s only by leveraging the strengths of men and women together that organizations can attain the highest levels of “collective intelligence,” a key factor in group performance.
With many companies around the world setting defined targets for getting more women into leadership roles, the U.S. is falling behind our global competition.
To attain greater gender balance, companies can apply the following 10 steps:
1. Don’t accept that there aren't enough female candidates for your senior leadership roles. There may not be as many as you’d like, but they’re out there. This may mean looking at people with a different industry perspective or an atypical resume.
2. Increase your pipeline of female talent across the organization. Keep track of where you recruit, who gets promoted, and who gets stretch assignments so you can push for more gender balance in every area of the business.
3. Take more risks on your female employees. High-potential women often operate under the radar. Take a second look at those who aren't raising a hand, but need to be called upon.
4. Create an employment brand that attracts more females and retains the ones you’ve got. The women you want to recruit take notice of how the company positions itself relative to them and to your customers. They will also look at whether or not your environment lets people work the way they want to work.
5. Keep your female talent. Do your practices and programs support women? Do you consider the real cost of not providing generous family leaves? Do you have a work-life integration strategy? Don’t confuse face time with productivity.
6. Mentor your high-potential females. Every executive in your company should be a mentor to your high-potential staff, and an effective mentoring program demands structure.
7. Identify and communicate criteria for successful leadership. You need firm criteria that describe exactly what traits and behaviors are priorities for your firm. These will include some more frequently exhibited by men (action orientation, risk-taking), and some more frequently exhibited by women (visioning, collaborating and intuition).
8. Establish a succession plan. Any organization needs a succession plan for leadership, and gender balance is an essential component of this plan if you want the best thinking.
9. Measure progress. Set goals for gender balance in your organization. Keep the metrics in front of you, and, annually, conduct a comprehensive talent review with your senior leadership team.
10. Communicate all of the above, clearly and often. Once you have a plan for achieving gender balance, make sure these actions aren’t a secret. A well-thought-out communication plan that starts at the top is a must.
Overall, gender balance should stand apart from merely part of a larger push for diversity. Remember there are only two genders among all of the globe’s 75-plus ethnic cultures; gender diversity cannot be addressed in the same way as ethnic diversity, which is equally important.
People are complex, and there are different complexities within the genders. We need to understand and leverage these differences to develop the best ideas, solutions and actions to have successful organizations.
– Melissa Greenwell
About the Author: Melissa Greenwell is executive vice president and COO of Auburn, WA-based national retailer The Finish Line, Inc. She’s also a certified executive coach who helps women and men understand how they can leverage natural strengths to identify and make behavioral changes that help them succeed as senior leaders. Greenwell is also the author of the book, Money on the Table: How to Increase Profits through Gender-Balanced Leadership
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