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Helping Female Leaders Succeed

I recently read an enlightening study by Development Dimensions International (DDI) — “Holding Women Back: Troubling Discoveries and Best Practices for Helping Female Leaders Succeed” — which reveals that, worldwide, women are simply not getting the same career opportunities as men.  The study is based on responses from 12,800 leaders in 76 countries and approximately 1,500 organizations. However, the study also offers advice on how to overcome such challenges.

We learn that, in addition to earning lower salaries than men, women are often overlooked when employers single out “high potentials” — employees who have strong leadership potential. High-potential employees are placed in accelerated development programs to foster their leadership skills. The DDI study reveals that the gap between men and women in high-potential programs widens as management levels increase: “there were 28 percent more men than women in high-potential programs at the first level of management and 50 percent more men than women in such programs at the executive level.” As a result, fewer women than men reach senior leadership positions.

The study provides seven tips for organizations and five tips for women to help female leaders succeed. For instance, the study recommends that organizations implement a formal succession plan to ensure that objective standards are followed when choosing replacements for key leadership roles. When an organization in the U.S. health care industry, for example, had a formal succession plan in place, “nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the executives were women.” However, without a succession plan, only “one-third (36 percent)” of the executives were women.

The study also urges organizations to, among other things, set up objective standards to evaluate job performance; monitor salary programs to eliminate any pay disparities; give women access to leadership training and development experiences; and provide mentors who can encourage women “to be more proactive about seeking new positions” and less critical of their qualifications. (Interestingly, the study noted that, at Hewlett-Packard, women applied for job openings only when they thought they would meet 100% of the job’s listed criteria, while men applied if they felt they met just 60% of that criteria.)

I encourage you to read “Holding Women Back: Troubling Discoveries and Best Practices for Helping Female Leaders Succeed” and then let us know your thoughts about it. Has your firm or company provided you with leadership training and opportunities?