Many pieces must fall into place for the successful advancement of female talent. High on the list is the importance of managers at all levels. As companies increase their focus on retaining and advancing talented women, the role of managers becomes continually more significant. However, managers often are at a loss about exactly what they need to do.
Managers who are successful at helping women get ahead understand that the “male model” of leadership can be a barrier to the success of female talent. They acknowledge the value of diversity in fostering organizational success; they realize that men and women view the organization differently and see these differences as an asset, not a liability.
In working with thousands of managers of talented women, I have found four practices that are common to successfully advancing female talent. These strategies are not restricted to male managers. They are equally important for women managers.
First, provide critical, meaningful feedback. Studies show that both the quality and frequency of feedback given to women varies significantly from feedback given to their male counterparts. Feedback to women tends to focus on performance and how they did on a particular project or met a specific goal. Feedback to men provides insight and guidance to prepare them for advancement. Managers with a solid track record of advancing their female talent do not restrict feedback to annual reviews. They regularly listen to women’s goals and ambitions. They help women see the areas of opportunity within the organization and guide them in interpreting the “rules of the game” so they understand how to play to win.
Second, give stretch assignments. Managers committed to helping women advance help them move out of their comfort zones and away from the misconceived notion that hard work alone is enough. They tap them to speak at conferences and seminars. They provide opportunities to interact with others outside the team and to showcase critical skills to senior management. They ensure that talented women take leadership roles on key initiatives.
Third, help increase visibility. Women are often reluctant to stand up and speak out. Managers with an eye for advancing the talented women on their teams combat this reluctance by encouraging them to be front and center at presentations with senior management. They provide strategies and feedback to help them be more vocal at formal and informal meetings. They encourage their female talent to present their ideas to senior management in a way that is in keeping with organizational goals and growth. For example, a woman who participated in my independent research indicated her interest in a senior management role to her manager. While he thought her capable, he acknowledged he couldn’t put her name forward because she was unknown outside of their area. Together, they created a strategy that allowed other leaders to get to know her and her competencies.
Finally, foster development of career-advancing relationships. Women, especially entry-level women, are less likely to understand the power of relationships. Unlike their male colleagues, they tend to keep their noses to the grindstone and not reach out to those, internally and externally, who can help them mold their behaviors and strategies to better ensure advancement. Managers are pivotal in helping women reach out and foster relationships that matter. They can offer on-site and off-site development opportunities on the right way to develop mentors, lay the groundwork for attracting sponsors, and provide advice and counsel on the unique dynamics of relationships within the organization.
Women represent more than 50 percent of the workforce. With baby boomers retiring and the talent pipeline diminishing, female talent cannot be ignored or overlooked. Research shows that diversity and inclusiveness are pivotal for ongoing success at all levels — success that goes well beyond the women themselves. Teams become more motivated. Retention of talent improves. Fresh ideas, needed to stay ahead in an ever-changing marketplace, flow more freely. Organizations enjoy a higher return on investment and improved shareholder returns.
Bottom line: Being a catalyst for the advancement of female talent must now be a critical component of every manager’s job description.