Initiatives for the Retention, Development and Advancement of Women – What Makes Them Successful?

By Nancy Droesch and Karen Miller, Co-Founders of WILLO LLC
August 23, 2017

In December 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that “More than two dozen chief executives of companies, including Bank of America Corp., LinkedIn Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp., have signed a pledge to speed women’s progress up the corporate ladder.” Credit Suisse Research Institute released comprehensive research in 2016 that reaffirmed that gender diversity in leadership was linked to higher corporate profitability. Many companies have recognized the need to address the challenges of gender diversity in their own leadership teams and have established formal or informal “women’s initiatives”. Yet, the impact of many of these initiatives has not produced the desired results. Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles and progress to change this dynamic has been slow. We have identified the following key factors to establishing a successful initiative to retain, develop and advance women leaders.

Commitment from Top Leadership

Changing how women advance often means changing the culture in an organization. Top leadership must demonstrate that they not only support but champion the changes needed to realize the full potential of their women. Many initiatives are led by individuals too far down in the organization to influence substantive change. The continual and visible support from CEO and other C-Suite executives sends the message that the initiative is strategic to the company’s success.

Company Initiative Not Women’s Initiative

A common mistake companies make is failure to recognize that changing culture to fully engage women can’t be done by organizing women into a separate group and telling them to go “fix themselves”. In these situations, the women meet a few times a year, have guest speakers come in, participate in a training session or two and everyone checks the gender diversity box. These initiatives are not as impactful or sustainable as compared to a more holistic approach.

Successful programs recognize there is a role for both men and women to play in addressing unconscious bias, structural micro-inequities and other challenges to the advancement of women. While women may benefit from separate training, these programs should fit into a larger effort that involves both men and women.

Identify and Address Root Causes

Successful initiatives address the challenges that are specific to the organization. While company leadership may assume they know what the issues are, until they have done the work to determine the root causes for higher turnover or lower representation of women in leadership positions, they are really only guessing. Once the causes are identified, then solutions can be implemented that are specific to the organization and its unique culture.

Adequate Resources

When a company launches a new product, it doesn’t tell the marketing team to plan and implement the launch in their spare time without any budget. Yet, this is exactly what some companies do with their initiatives to advance women. They assign responsibility for the initiative to a leader without freeing up any of that individual’s time or providing them with any supporting resources. It is just another project. With limited time and often a limited budget, the leader is not able to properly identify the issues, develop robust programs or implement solutions.

Linkage to Company Strategy

The goal to improve diversity in leadership may be considered laudable on its own merits, but a successful initiative linked to the business strategy can drive significant business benefits. This requires solutions that are integrated into the company’s operating practices. A company-wide initiative that is supported by top leadership and provides adequate resources can advance a company’s strategy by ensuring that all individuals, men and women, are fully engaged in supporting the company’s success.

Measurable Outcomes

The impact of an initiative to advance women leaders may not be fully realized for years. However, it is critical to determine the measures that will be used to evaluate progress. Typical measures include turnover statistics, promotion rates, and gender gaps in employee engagement surveys.

Is it time to reassess your approach to gender diversity?

No matter where a company is in its evolution of the development and advancement of women leaders, WILLO can provide gender diversity consulting services that take its efforts to the next level. Contact WILLO today.