Companies spend big money on gender diversity and inclusion training. There’s a good reason for that: attracting and retaining high-caliber female talent all the way up to the top leadership ranks comes with a long list of compelling results, ranging from lower turnover cost to higher profits. Female senior leaders have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Yet, bias persists and women are still grossly underrepresented in senior management positions:
- Women represent only 4.6 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies
- Women hold only 16 percent of Board seats at S&P 1500 companies (see Fortune Jan. 2016)
- Women are 15 percent less likely to get promoted (see Business Insider Oct. 2015).
While many gender diversity programs sound convincing, they often fall short of some critical conceptual and structural components, and therefore haven’t moved the dial in many years.
1. They are not actionable.
Many generic programs are poorly designed. They are not tailored to the organization’s specific needs, and they don’t offer actionable tools. They don’t always include action plans, strategies, or clearly defined follow-up, which means zero accountability or motivation for change. The participants leave the workshop and go back to their work routine; nothing changes.
What’s important is to build the workshop around the group’s specific challenges, while integrating them with the organization’s diversity and growth goals as well as proven core curriculum. The content must be customized and the tools immediately applicable in the workplace.
“One size fits all” has no space in effective training. Investing time in exploring the concrete challenges of the organization and the women (and hopefully men) participating in the training always pays off. Leadership teams are often surprised at the findings from anonymous surveys, which makes it even more important to include a pre-workshop process to identify specific issues that need to be addressed. Many programs skip this step in the favor of a price cut. But at what cost? – It just doesn’t make sense to spend less on a program that doesn’t create a tangible outcome.
Take The Lead’s workshop “9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career” offers 9 actionable and highly effective tools that can be implemented by the participants from day one. Participants learn concrete skills, instantly upgrade their relationship with power and create Strategic Leadership Action Plans (SLAPs), which inspires them to continue working on their leadership vision and goals. We recommend a follow-up session where SLAPs are revised and progress is measured.
2. They don’t put enough emphasis on mutual support or mentoring.
While women compete against women, nothing much will change. However, many organizations without a clear cultural intention to foster social connections between all teams and levels, intrinsically still instigate competition instead of co-creation just by not addressing this issue. That’s why programs that don’t actively stimulate the desire for women to work together and pull other women up with them won’t make a big difference in the long term.Take The Lead's philosophy of sister courage creates mutual support. Click To Tweet
What sets us apart is that one of the most important principles of Take The Lead’s philosophy is sister courage. Women who participated in our workshops organically and enthusiastically created mutual support concepts immediately during the sessions, such as systems that allowed them to endorse each other for exceptional accomplishments.
Take The Lead also emphasizes the importance of role models and mentoring and includes these key elements in the workshops in creative and inspiring ways.
3. They encourage women to emulate male behavior instead of contributing their authentic value.
We read it in women’s performance evaluations all the time: “Clearly one of our top performers but should be more assertive” or “exceptional analytical skills but lacking interpersonal skills.” Our interviews with women show that they are either criticized for not being assertive enough or for being too aggressive, and they are finding it “hard to fit in, while being true to who we are.”
There is an important point here: Women often don’t speak up enough, they tend to be more modest, less “loud,” and therefore less visible. In meetings, they sit in the back row and take on a passive listening role. The Take The Lead workshop addresses that. It encourages women to become active players who know how to show up powerfully at meetings so they are heard and acknowledged for their contributions.
True gender equality is not about emulating male behaviors, even though some may absolutely be worth considering, such as speaking up more confidently and applying for promotions, even when we can’t prove 100% of the requirements.
True equality is respecting each other’s styles. This means that sometimes the louder party needs to take a step back and give the more silent party its space and opportunity to speak up. It requires sharpening everyone’s listening skills. Only when we allow different leadership styles in, can we also get all the benefits that come with gender balance.
Authenticity is a big topic of the Take The Lead programs: showing up as the powerful women we are, wearing the shirt of our own convictions, and sharing our story are some ways to embrace our authentic self and bring it to our organization as a valuable gift.
Take The Lead workshops address the culturally learned ambivalence about power and helps women change their power paradigm so they can embrace power as what it really is: the power TO achieve our own and our company’s goals and to create the results we want.
The Power Tool “Use What You’ve Got” encourages women to bring out their best talents and skills and to apply all the means, tools and contacts they have available to advance their own career and that of their female co-workers.
Some of the most successful leaders became powerful influencers through storytelling and sharing their own stories. Just think of Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson. Women have many untold stories that can help them enhance their impact with their teams, clients and in the boardroom. Storytelling is also a powerful bonding technique that helps overcome bias. That’s why one of the Take The Lead Power Tools specifically focuses on storytelling.Storytelling is a key power tool to enhance impact for women leaders. Click To Tweet
4. They only include one side in the conversation.
Gender inclusion programs that ignore the male part of the equation are really gender exclusion programs. Admittedly, some women may feel more comfortable when they are among women during specific training sessions, but this is not about comfort or convenience. It’s about change.
Because the intention usually is to strengthen the women’s side, it makes sense to have a majority of women in the room, but I believe we can learn the most when we cultivate a dialog. Needless to say, varying management levels should be represented on both sides as well.
Yes, it’s important to have women’s initiatives. And yes, these groups only reach their inclusion goals if and when they seek open conversation with the men in the organization. Encouraging the women to merely act within their women’s group is like organizing an inclusiveness party for Latino co-workers only. Clearly misses the point. Inclusion is about bringing people together, not separating them. Inclusion is about including.
Take The Lead encourages organizations to invite men into the conversation in order to raise mutual awareness and understanding. Enlisting men has another huge advantage: It automatically creates male advocates of women’s advancement and leadership, as we make it easier for men to support our ambitions and to fully grasp what’s in it for them when they do.
Take The Lead also offers a gender bi-lingual communication workshop, which helps women and men communicate more effectively, while improving the results for everyone involved. Communication is the basis of all work relationships and all business success, and it happens in all directions, among all groups and levels. Even a lack of communication is a form of communication. No organization can afford to ignore this important fact because financial results depend on effective communication.
5. They ignore the fact that women and men typically think differently.
Equality is not sameness. As we know, the difference between women and men is not only physical; women and men also tend to think differently. And our thoughts determine our actions, meaning men and women also act differently. Female and male leaders tend to bring different leadership traits to the table, according to the article What Makes a Good Leader, and Does Gender Matter? by Pew Research Center. If it’s your company’s goal to move towards sustainable balanced leadership, it will be critical to unite all the qualities mentioned in this article: honesty, intelligence, decisiveness, organization, compassion, innovation and ambition.
Kellogg Insight delivers some additional insights on expected outcomes of male and female leadership in the article Leaders Do Matter – But When Does Their Gender Matter, Too? Both articles clearly demonstrate that there is immense value in diverse leadership.
Take The Lead workshops respect the fact that we create the best results when we bring our different talents, approaches and thinking styles together, without labeling some as superior and others as inferior.
Diversity is not about creating a community of people who think and act the same way for the sake of inclusion. Diversity is the opposite: It’s “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” (Merriam-Webster). It’s variety.
We need to realize that diversity is not a “problem” or “hindrance” that needs to be dealt with, but the source of enormous richness that brings compelling benefits and eventually higher profits.
Yes, inclusion of all genders is about basic human rights and providing equal opportunities to everyone. And it’s also about harvesting the fruits that come with it.
In a nutshell, greater diversity leads to better performance and increased bottom line through:
- more diverse aspects that flow into a group’s creative power
- more informed points of view
- more balanced decision-making and risk-taking
- more varied leadership styles
- more relevant products and services
- more effective promotion and sales
- lower turnover cost
- and more.
More inclusiveness leads to more efficiency through:
- less confrontation and higher job satisfaction
- less time and energy wasted on resolution of conflicts
- smoother communication
- spirit of collaboration and co-creation
- lower risk of class action and related costs.
All of the above leads to better financial results and higher profits.Inclusion leads to higher job satsifaction, spirit of collaboration for women leaders. Click To Tweet
The Take The Lead programs can help you drive the success of your Diversity & Inclusion initiative and increase your bottom-line at the same time.
I became a certified Take The Lead Leadership Ambassador because I believe so strongly that this curriculum gets results. I am pleased to offer it both as a stand-alone module and as in conjunction with my Powerful Leadership Transformation curriculum, depending on your needs.
Take The Lead workshop “9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career” offers 9 actionable and highly effective tools that can be implemented by the participants from day one. Participants learn concrete skills, instantly upgrade their relationship with power and create Strategic Leadership Action Plans (SLAPs), which inspires them to continue working on their leadership vision and goals. We recommend a follow-up session where SLAPs are revised and progress is measured.
Are you committed to driving gender equality and your profits? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can explore together what Take The Lead programs can do for your organization.
This post originally ran in Linked In.