Many organizations have recently made efforts to recruit and retain high-potential women to increase their representation in senior management. Catalyst, a non-profit research and advisory firm for advancing women in business, cites three reasons for this heightened activity – women are a large part of the talent pool, they have a unique perspective to contribute to decision-making and problem solving and they are a significant consumer base. Results of other studies demonstrate that women are superior at motivating employees, fostering communication and producing high quality work.
It’s frustrating to senior managers, then, when women who are being groomed for higher-level positions leave or resign unexpectedly. Not only have organizations failed to retain key talent, but there is also a direct negative impact on the bottom line.
Catalyst and other research data points out that women face barriers advancing in organizations that men don’t seem to experience. Some of those barriers are:
- Male stereotyping and preconceptions;
- Exclusion from informal networks of communication;
- Lack of significant line experience;
- Lack of opportunity to take on visible or challenging assignments;
- Failure of senior management to assume accountability for women’s advancement.
There are ways that women can overcome these barriers. Some initiatives work for both men and women – consistently exceed expectations, seek difficult assignments, demonstrate strong communication skills and have an influential mentor. Of equal importance, women need to develop a style with which their male counterparts are comfortable. All of these actions are related to communication, relationships, power and influence.
According to Catalyst, “companies have a responsibility to change to help meet the needs of management women and it is up to women themselves to change to fit the culture.” For example, companies can take risks on high-potential women, including offering them “stretch” assignments; and women can take advantage of tools available for assessing their skills and developing plans for change.
Wingate Consulting has developed an approach for women who would benefit from building and strengthening their relationship and communication skills. We first conduct a skills assessment to determine the issues that need to be addressed, and then we customize a development plan that is focused specifically on the person’s concerns. Through dialogue and discussion about real-time work situations, the individual learns about her preferences for deploying personal power and exerting greater influence. She also gains an awareness of her own style and how it helps or hinders her effectiveness as a leader.