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Many companies are still making slow progress in hiring diverse talent, including women. Although a recent IBM study found that there were 12% more women in C-Suite roles and sitting on boards of directors, the corporate world still has a long way to go when it comes to hiring and cultivating female leadership. Women are underrepresented in all roles, including leadership. It’s even worse for women of color. According to a report from McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, “Women of color continue to lose ground at every step in the pipeline — between the entry-level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75%. Women of color account for only 4% of C-suite, a number that hasn’t moved much in last three years.”
Historically, women have been underrepresented in the tech industry, and they continue to be so today. Particularly post-pandemic, when more women than ever are feeling disconnected and disengaged in the workplace, tech leaders have a responsibility to close the gender gap in the upper ranks and foster an inclusive, equitable environment that encourages and supports future generations of women and provides them with upward mobility.
Doing so has economic benefits for companies, especially in tech. There is fierce competition to hire skilled tech talent, and filling those roles will only become more difficult if women continue to be underrepresented in the industry and in leadership. Moreover, studies consistently show that organizations with a strong gender balance at the top levels perform better, are more profitable, and tend to have more inclusive and innovative cultures.
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, an expert on empowering professional women to excel in their careers and helping organizations unlock innovation through inclusive leadership, joined us on a recent episode of The C-Suite Chronicles to share some helpful strategies to cultivate female leaders within your organization and help them thrive.
Support and Inclusivity are vital keys to success
Dr. Carol said that fostering women leaders starts with building a culture of support and inclusivity. She cited the McKinsey/Lean In study, noting that nearly 30% of women said they considered reducing their hours, taking an easier job, or leaving the workforce altogether. It’s a phenomenon the study’s authors dubbed “The Great Breakup,” where women are leaving companies because they aren’t receiving the support, encouragement, and mentorship they need to advance in their careers and make meaningful contributions in the workplace.
In light of this trend, employers should focus on:
Providing Equal Opportunities: Evaluate your recruiting, promotion, and succession planning processes to ensure that women have equal opportunities to progress within your organization. Dr. Carol mentioned that 45% of women leaders are eligible for retirement, leaving an outsized gap in intellectual property and institutional knowledge when they depart their roles. Younger generations of women are hungry for advancement and mentorship opportunities. Employers should leverage current leaders to facilitate a transfer of knowledge and groom future generations to step into leadership roles.
When it comes to recruiting and hiring, employers should implement policies and practices that promote diversity in candidate pools and counteract systemic and unconscious biases. For example, these could include reworking job descriptions to include more gender-neutral language and standardizing the interview process so all candidates are asked the same predefined set of questions.
Encouraging Mentorship and Sponsorship: Employers should consider establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs that connect aspiring women leaders with seasoned executives who can guide, advocate for, and provide growth opportunities. However, Dr. Carol is a staunch advocate for formal mentorship programs. “Most mentoring and sponsorship programs are ad hoc. There’s no training for the sponsor,” she said. “They’re just volunteers who say, ‘Hey, I’d be more than happy to help to take people under my wing and support them.’”
While that’s a good start, Dr. Carol noted, there’s no intrinsic reward system or focus on specific outcomes. Without measurable goals, many corporate mentorship programs fall short.
She cited the success of reverse mentorship programs, where younger or early-career professionals mentor their senior colleagues. According to Harvard Business Review, “The common goal here is to advance the professional growth of people across different generations and job roles and help them learn from each other.” Dr. Carol cited an example of reverse mentorship where women mentor men to help them understand the female experience in the workplace. She is a champion of reverse mentorship as an effective way to shift behavior in an organization and foster more diverse, inclusive cultures.
Dr. Carol also mentioned the effectiveness of peer-to-peer collaboration. Her consulting firm set up peer groups for women and women of color at a tech company, and the work they did together over the course of 18 months not only improved upward career mobility for women throughout the organization, it also reduced attrition rates by 67%.
Offering Training and Development: Employers can help advance women in the workplace by investing in leadership development programs specifically designed for women. This could include providing access to relevant trainings, masterminds, conferences, and industry networks that help women enhance their skills and encourage professional growth.
Fostering women leadership is a strategic competitive advantage for startups and small businesses. Dr. Carol’s perspective highlights the importance of creating a supportive culture and an environment where women feel empowered to pursue and step into leadership roles. By implementing these strategies, business leaders can unlock the immense potential of women leaders, driving innovation and achieving sustainable growth. After all, diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just “buzzwords” with altruistic intent; they are the foundations of successful, forward-thinking organizations.
To hear our entire interview with Dr. Carol, tune in to The C-Suite Chronicles on Apple or Spotify, or watch the video on our YouTube channel. If you like what you hear, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, and consider sharing it with your network so we can reach more leaders and help our community thrive.
If you’re still on the fence about the impact that DEI can have in your organization, we encourage you to reach out to our DEI Center of Excellence. The program is a comprehensive, equity-focused training and development framework that transforms technology companies and reimagines a workforce where everyone thrives. Our dedicated professionals are passionate about guiding tech companies as they navigate the progression of their DEI journey and creating flourishing and belonging for every employee in every tech workplace. Learn more about our DEI solutions.