Business Tips / Careers and Work

What are You Doing to Address the Under-representation of Women in Senior Roles at Your Company?


"Women in Senior Roles" There has been recent media attention to the under-representation of women in senior roles, from congress to business. Two recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) articles shed some light as to why. While the reasons are not rocket science, most of us know about and have experienced them ourselves; it is good validation and heightens the issue as clearly undone.

The article The Real Women’s Issue: Time (WJS, 3/9-10/13), Ms. Greenstone Miller addresses this considering Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Contrary to the book’s premise of what women need to do to advance (assert themselves more at work and be more ambitious), Ms. Greenstone Miller suggests that women may not want to “lean in” to what is expected and understood in order to advance – long hours, high workload, and little flexibility. And this makes sense…

Women, unless single, and honestly – often staying single or childless in order to embrace and aggressively pursue their careers—are sentient of the balancing act of competing demands of family life and the influence it has on their work. So, many opt out of their aspirations and opportunities to gain altitude in their career.

Ms. Greenstone Miller offers some great examples of what she does in her company to recalibrate the expectations of performance based on quality of contribution, not quantity of time worked. Her practices are worth considering and adopting to foster women in senior roles considering the different stages of our lives. Her practices include:
• re-evaluating time associated with the role (i.e., the full time+ schedule associated with high-level work);
• establishing work by project verses overall function;
• establishing availability and accessibility associated to the project or work at hand, not in perpetuity (i.e. on call always and forever);
• and, assessing performance by quality of contribution (outcomes), not quantity of time worked or activities completed. How refreshing…reinvention of work!

Another contributing reason to the under-presentation of women in senior roles has to do with getting there, and our experience being there. Considering what’s traditionally involved in the demanding hours and workload, it can be tough to simply “get there”. And once we get there—we may not find much support. Sadly, for women, the challenge of having a good mentor to help us along the way can be complicated by the lack of mentoring by female executives who could or should be our mentors. It seems, instead, that there is too often rivalry as a form of self-preservation and an experience of the ‘new woman’ being bullied or made less by the existing woman with the power. And we know that unsupportive or hostile environments diminish connectivity and aspirations. The Wall Street Journal story by Peggy Drexler, ‘The Tyranny of the Queen Bee’ (3/2/13), highlighted this, and I can personally attest that it happens. So, don’t just expect that the female at the top will naturally take an interest in mentoring the up-and-coming because of ‘sisterhood’. To avoid this happening, the duty and practice of mentoring needs be part of the fabric of your company, that is, reflective of your values and foundational to your culture.

Takeaways – there are two key ideas that you, as a female business leader, are called to give thought and action to:
1. How are you adapting your company’s talent needs to the attributes, aspirations and schedule interests of your employees? (If it is old box style—you stand to loose or under-utilize a lot of valuable talent, especially women.)
2. How are you enabling mentorship of new or emerging women leaders in your business to balance the under-representation of their presence in leadership roles? (Mentoring is a powerful integration and developmental tool.)

Sara LaForest and Tony Kubica are partners of the business growth consulting firm, Kubica LaForest Consulting, as well as the authors of forthcoming book, Organizational Gravity: A Guide to Strategically Growing Your Company’s Brand, Culture and Talent.

Learn more about their work in helping entrepreneurs at www.kubicalaforestconsulting.com

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