2 October 2013
Gayle Peterson
 
10 Ways to Woo Women into Leadership Roles
 
Women have the power to transform organisations and create a new leadership model to tackle the world’s most pressing problems – yet they are persistently under-represented in senior positions. Here are 10 things companies can do to encourage women into leadership roles. These are being discussed at Women Transforming Leadership, an executive education programme at Said Business School, University of Oxford this week.
1. RECOGNISE THAT WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP TRAITS ARE “THE SECRET SAUCE” TO TACKLING THE TOUGHEST ISSUES ­FACING YOUR COMPANY.
You won’t be able to make the cultural changes necessary to attract more women unless you really do want their distinctive skills. Luckily, there’s plenty of evidence around to convince you. Studies by IBM, Gerzema, Young & Rubicam, and Zenger Folkman suggest the skills women tend to possess are characteristics that help local and global organisations succeed. These are also the qualities necessary to tackle the world’s most complex, intractable problems: compassion, collaboration and the ability to create and drive an inspiring vision.
 
2. SET YOURSELVES A TARGET AND TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT.
Do it now, and commit to it publicly. It will improve your reputation and your chances of succeeding. You don’t want to have to explain to everyone that you failed to meet your own target or why your company isn’t as successful as it could be. A report by McKinsey & Co, The Business of Empowering Women, shows that ­gender-balanced executive committees have a 56 per cent higher operating profit than companies with male-only committees. Yet 38.5 per cent of ASX 200 companies and 56.2 per cent of ASX 500 companies do not have a ­female director.
 
3. TALK TO THE MOST SENIOR WOMEN ALREADY WORKING IN YOUR COMPANY.
Ask them to speak honestly about the barriers they have faced and the things you should do to make it easier for women to be promoted to senior positions. Talk to women who have returned to work after maternity leave. Finally, hold purposeful exit interviews with women who are leaving. It may be too late to persuade them to stay, but they could teach you how to hold on to their successors.
 
4. TAKE ADVICE ON HOW YOUR COMPANY APPEARS TO WOMEN
Does your “employer brand” and reputation put women off applying to you in the first place? Look at the subtle signals you are sending out through your recruitment advertising and other communications and make sure that your messages are at least gender-neutral.
 
5. ENCOURAGE YOUR RECRUITERS TO CAST THEIR NETS WIDE.
There are many highly talented women already in leadership positions – but perhaps in small and medium-sized companies or not-for-profits. Realise that they have skills, knowledge and experience that would be of enormous benefit to your company, despite their not having chosen a traditional corporate career route.
 
6. KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
You might have to work hard to convince these women to join your company. Listen to what they want and try to accommodate it, even if it’s outlandish. give them a chance to show you it can work.
 
7. KEEP YOUR HIGH-POTENTIAL WOMEN AFTER THEY’VE HAD CHILDREN.
Can they retain their seniority but just manage fewer projects or clients? Can they share their expertise as in-house consultants? Let them see how much you value them and they’ll be more willing to step back onto their leadership career trajectory when the time is right.
 
8. REMEMBER YOUR PART-TIMERS.
Part-time does not mean unambitious and lacking commitment – it just means working, and getting paid for, fewer hours. Encourage them to apply for promotions or suitable lateral moves. You never know: they might be tempted to make the leap back into full-time work.
 
9. IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND SUCCESSION PLANNING.
Don’t fall for the people who shout about their achievements and take all the credit. Don’t feel you have to reward people who practically live in the office. You should have processes and training to enable managers to identify and nurture leadership talent in its many forms.
 
10. EMBRACE CHANGE.
You’re employing more senior women in order to make a difference, so let them do so.
 
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