24 Insights from the 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference


“My best successes came on the heels of failures.”

Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and Shark investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

Standing up, Being Counted: Leaders Driving Change and Measuring Results

Both organizations and individual women can further gender equality and bring more females into senior leadership, the C-suite, and boardrooms. Organizations should put a diversity and inclusion (D&I) lens across everything they do to elevate women, involve men in the conversation, have leadership development programs that give women the right work experiences, offer benefits and policies to help growing families, and encourage girls to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Individual women need to be lifelong learners, take lateral moves to fill out their resumes, share their stories, and not let a lack of confidence prevent them from trying something new.

When 148 practitioners and experts met to discuss women’s leadership, we took notes. Here are the highlights:

Companies can make an effort across the entire HR spectrum to help move women forward.

  1. Approach everything the organization does from a D&I perspective. Build it into hiring practices, leadership development programs, benefits, and any content the organization creates. For example, one entertainment company looks at how D&I is portrayed in its movies and television shows. Also hold leaders accountable. The same entertainment company links leaders’ compensation to D&I.
  2. Require diverse candidate slates for each job posting and don’t proceed with interviews until the requirements are met. Contact external recruiters if needed. Also make sure women feel included during campus recruiting. One investment bank places female ambassadors at the colleges and universities where it recruits the most since female students want to hear from other young women.
  3. Think about what your organization is doing today to give women and people of color the right experiences and to provide multiple access points to leadership positions. Here’s what some companies are doing:

One entertainment company offers several programs to help build its talent pipeline, promote from within, and retain employees: 1) “Workplace and women”: This global, 12-month program provides leaders with awareness of female talent they may not have been exposed to. Participants are paired with senior leaders who act as coaches and mentors (and it can lead to sponsorship). The pairs meet in-person and virtually, and participants also complete a strengths assessment, have career-path conversations, set goals, and work on stretch assignments to help them meet those goals. 2) “Code Rosie”: This program is designed to help build female tech talent within the organization and then help retain them. Participants take a three-month course in software engineering and then complete an 18-month internship. After the internship, the company places them in a tech roles within the organization and if they don’t like it, they can return to their old job.

One transportation-related joint venture gives women engineers big projects so they can become role models for younger women. They also have an emerging leaders program for middle management ranks.

One financial services company looks at the roles that are open the most often and makes a list of the skills necessary to do the job. Then it moves people around in different roles to give them the experiences they’d need for the job. Then, when it comes available again, the organization can fill it internally.

  1. Have formal sponsorship programs that pair women with senior leadership so they can become familiar with her work. Sponsorship is important because many female CEOs said they didn’t think about becoming CEO until someone suggested it to them.
  2. Provide benefits that help families grow and that support pregnant women. Give families/women inclusive fertility support, such as time off and money to help with infertility treatments, IVF, adoption, and surrogacy; provide support and flexibility, especially for high-risk pregnancies; offer mental health screenings and benefits since a significant number of women experience a mood disorder during or immediately after pregnancy; and become a breast-feeding friendly organization by providing mothers a place to pump. Also begin return-to-work transition planning during pregnancy.

Organizations can play a larger role in making sure men feel welcome when advocating for women as well as educating men on what is appropriate to say.

  1. Many men want to get involved in gender equality in the workplace but are often hesitant to speak up because they either want to avoid potential backlash, don’t feel they have legitimacy to discuss it, are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, or don’t know how to raise certain issues. Women should start the conversation and then invite men to join them—this gives men permission to discuss the issues and present their ideas with less suspicion.
  2. Here are some ways to include men: pair men and women together for coaching, hold reverse mentoring sessions, have a “manbassadors” outreach program, create formal programs that pair women with male mentors and sponsors, ask men to post blog entries that champion women, and invite men to roundtable discussions and women’s employee resource groups (ERGs) as allies. When men participate in such programs with women, they gain more empathy and understanding. And women benefit from having both men and women advocate for them.
  3. To give men and women a forum to discuss gender-related issues in a non-confrontational way, consider starting an ERG if you don’t already have one. Just remember there is an evolution process for such groups and that you don’t need 100 percent attendance all the time. Even if no one shows, that’s okay—that just gave you information on what doesn’t resonate. Also keep in mind that if you only hold the meetings during lunch, you may be sending a message that they aren’t important enough to be held during other business hours.
  4. Most often, when men ask women to take notes, interrupt women, or say something they think is protective of women (but that women find demeaning), these men don’t realize what they’re doing and may think they’re doing the right thing. There are ways to raise these issues in a nice way—hold workshops that address male-female dynamics and office etiquette as part of professional development and assign tasks like note-taking on a rotating basis.

Women and companies can help prepare the next generation for leadership roles.

  1. Many female CEOs got their start in STEM subjects, business, economics, and finance-related areas. Show the younger generations female role models, especially in these fields. One entertainment company pairs women in tech roles with girls around the world to talk about their jobs, and employees at an investment bank talk to girls in high school so the students can see themselves in such roles.
  2. One chemical company has created programs to engage students in STEM-related subjects. Rising high-school seniors can apply for its Science Academy program, which is done in conjunction with a nearby university. Students stay in the dorms for two weeks while they take classes and create a product that helps solve a business problem. At the end, they give a presentation. Several graduates eventually landed jobs with the company. The company also hosts a tech academy for middle and high school students—one fourth of which are girls—and science labs for kids as part of a partnership with a local science center and museum.

To make sure you have an inclusive culture, consider measuring inclusion.

  1. Inclusion exists in the workplace in these places:

Inside people—one’s perception of being seen and heard as well as one’s ability to feel valued, a sense of belonging, and psychologically safe

Between people—having positive interactions with colleagues and one’s immediate team and manager

Outside people—this includes how the organization works, including culture, formal policies, work processes, decision making, and who has access to whom

  1. Inclusion is much harder to measure than diversity and people frequently mix the two up, especially in survey questions about measuring headcount. You can’t learn about inclusion simply by looking at the numbers—you have to use several measurement methods and ask a lot of specific questions to gage the level of inclusion. It’s helpful for your diversity and inclusion team to have strong ties to the human capital analytics team and its data.
  2. A combination of these measurement methods will provide the most robust information:

Qualitative: This includes focus groups, employee interviews, and employee resource groups. Ask them how included they feel, what their experiences have been, what factors they think contribute to inclusiveness, what specific behaviors helped them feel included, and what behaviors make them feel psychologically safe.

Quantitative: This includes surveys that ask questions about inclusion inside (e.g. “I am comfortable being myself at work.”); inclusion between people (e.g., “My leader creates an environment where I feel comfortable expressing my ideas and views.”); and inclusion outside (e.g., “My company gives equal access to learning and development opportunities.”). Use a scale of one to five for such statements.

Data collection and analysis: Do this by: 1) HR data analysis: Determine the number of men and women entering, leaving, and being promoted within the organization by level and look for “choke points” (more promotions going to men than women at a certain level or more women than men leaving the organization at a certain level), so you can determine where to intervene. Most of this information should already be available through the organization’s human resources information system database. 2) Organizational network analysis: Analyze email headers (but not content) to see who interacts with whom—e.g., men may have stronger ties with senior executives than women, indicating that the organization needs to offer women more opportunities to interact with higher levels of management.

Companies are realizing the value in sharing their HR and gender equality data.

  1. One financial services and media company has built a gender equality index to standardize reporting of gender-related data. It tracks—by company—the number of women on a company’s board, the percentage of women in pipeline roles for senior leadership positions, the percentage of women promoted, gender pay-gap metrics, and whether policies that contribute to an inclusive culture such as paid parental leave are in place, among other information. Companies share the data voluntarily.
  2. Investors use this data to make better informed investment decisions, CEOs use it for benchmarking and to raise capital, human resources professionals use it to measure progress and intervene when necessary, communications and public relations use it to tell the company’s story and build its brand, and investor relations and sustainability departments use it to provide transparency. Showing that it excels in gender equality also helps an organization attract and retain top talent.

Female presenters shared this advice for getting ahead as well as success stories.

  1. Ask for what you want or people will make assumptions. For example, one financial services company assumed women were not interested in overseas positions or jobs that require long hours. “Don’t give others the power to decide what you do. Don’t let anyone else define you,” said one woman CEO.
  2. Ask the question that’s not being asked. One woman of color at a financial services company said she got her overseas position after she said that as an African American woman, she’s used to being the only person of her type in the room, so she’d be the most culturally sensitive.
  3. Accept that making mistakes is okay and don’t feel like you have to be perfect all the time. “Too often, we only focus on winning, and are devastated when we don’t win. We learn more from our losses than from winning,” said a female chairman of the board and president of a major sports organization. “Dealing with adversity is how we overcome our failures and become successful.”
  4. Apply for roles that you think you may not be qualified for. Women think they need all of the requirements, and therefore don’t apply. One woman applied for and landed a job as a television commentator for tennis despite not having any grand slam experience. She played on her strong points, such as knowing top-ranked tennis players who would be willing to give a good interview. And she had a friend who was a sports anchor at a television station make a video for her.
  5. Women have to continue to be mentors to other women and avoid saying things along the lines of, “it took me too long to get here.” If a woman is confident in what she does, she should be able to bring others along too.
  6. Don’t be afraid to be heard and to be assertive, even though women who possess such traits are often called names. Know there will be battles along the way to the top. “If you embrace them, you just might get to the mountaintop,” said one woman president.
  7. Tell your stories, because they play an integral role in having an educated public, sharing marginalized voices, and being a catalyst for change. One female documentary producer shared how two of her company’s films became agents for change: In one, a girl who was part of a sex trafficking ring and who murdered her “John” was granted clemency after a local politician saw the story. After the other—about rape in the military—was released, the US Department of Defense and the US House Armed Services Committee changed the policy regarding sexual assault reporting in the military. You don’t have to make documentaries, but share your stories with other women to show how you’ve succeeded in a male-dominated society and to be a role model.
  8. Here are examples of how some women spoke up when they saw or heard inappropriate things from men:

A woman at one investment bank told a male manager that he’s always asking the same women to take notes and he was mortified once he realized the pattern. Now he assigns note-takers on a rotating basis and writes the person’s name on the meeting agenda.

Construction workers at one engineering company asked women engineers whether they were “okay to come to a construction site” and then told them “to leave the pearls and heels at home.” When the women told them such language was offensive, the men said they thought they were being protective and treating the women like their daughters. And the women said, “But, we’re not your daughters. We’re engineers at work.”

One woman relayed a story that happened when she worked at a tech company in the early 1990s: She attended a sales conference to present her new microchip. At 8 a.m., prior to her presentation, was the conference “eye opener,” which consisted of topless women dancing—this made her and the two other women present highly uncomfortable. There was a nude performance the next night. Afterwards, she told the company’s CEO that such things made her feel like she wasn’t part of the organization. He invited her to his table for dinner, where she told him and the others how the performances made her feel. “I didn’t call anyone names, but I wanted them to feel my pain,” she said. It worked—the sales conference the following year contained no shows of that nature.

One woman said that when other women are up for promotion at the financial services company where she works, one male frequently says that the female candidates are missing certain skills, so they shouldn’t be considered. Then she says to him: “Once upon a time, you were missing a skill and I gave you a chance. Now you need to do the same.”

ORIGINAL REPORT APPEARS Here: https://www.conference-board.org/publications/2019-Womens-Leadership-Conference

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