Event Date: 07/08/2015 (2:00 pm EDT - 3:00 pm EDT)
SARAH SHAFER: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s webinar, Develop a Robust Female Leadership Pipeline, hosted by HRDQU and presented by Alexia Vernon. Today’s webinar will last around one hour. If you have any questions you can always type them into the questions box. We’ll be answering these questions as they come in live at the end of the presentation or as a follow-up by email. My name is Sarah Shafer and I will moderate today’s webinar.
Branded a moxie maven by the by the White House for her unique and effective approach to women’s leadership development, Alexia Vernon is the founder and director of Influencer Academy, a nine-month program for female leaders seeking to cultivate their skills in public speaking, persuasion, negotiation, coaching, facilitation, and high impact interpersonal communication. As a former women’s study and public speaking professor Alexia has contributed to media including CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, Inc., Forbes, and Women’s Health. Welcome, and thank you for joining us today.
ALEXIA: Thank you very much, Sarah, and HRDQ for this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics which is how to create a culture that grooms women for progressively responsible leadership. Welcome to all of you who are here today. Whether you are here because you are interested in amplifying your own leadership within your organization, or because of the HR or learning and development hat or potentially hats that you wear, you want to know how do I make sure that I am growing female leaders in our organization. My promise to you is that you’ll leave today with both insight but more importantly actionable things that you can implement so that you are able to follow through with this information and really ensure that your organization is one where women can thrive.
In case you haven’t noted I am incredibly eager to be able to continue this conversation today, but, also moving forward so if you are somebody who is on Twitter you will notice before we move forward slide deck-wise that is the way to be able to stay in touch with me and HRDQ if you want on social media.
One of the reasons why I am so passionate about this topic is because for most of my life, despite coming from what I would consider a tremendous amount of educational privilege, I’ve had an on again off again relationship to my own leadership, specifically to my own voice. And, the reason why that is surprising to people, beyond the fact that I am immersed in women’s leadership development work, is because I should’ve been one of the lucky ones from the get-go. And what I mean by that is I went to an all girls’ middle school and high school. I was lauded for being a successful dancer, for having straight A’s, for being president of my high school’s community service club, for starting our high school newspaper. By the time I was in college I had won the Miss Junior America competition. I had tremendous scholarships to get my undergraduate education and the presidential scholarship for grad school. And, yes, by the time I was in my mid-20s I felt somewhat trapped. And, what I want to begin with is INAUDIBLE that the glass ceiling has been talked about for so long with respect to women is not necessarily what we think it is. And let me demystify that a little bit. When I say that I felt trapped by the time that I was in my mid-20s, I had been on a trajectory where I felt somewhat entitled to be able to lead quite frankly. And I wish I could say that I was an aberration in this regard, but I know to be the truth and the work to be done over the these last 15 years, that actually my story is not an INAUDIBLE but somewhat the norm.
So, after graduate school I ended up working in learning development for a large nonprofit organization and although I had a series of pay raises and promotions over the three or four years that I was there, ultimately I got somewhat trapped in the manager’s level. And, I knew that the only way that I was going to have more opportunity was going to be if I either left my organization and/or if I hung out my own shingle which ultimately I wound up doing both of those things. Well, for some organizations that are in the minority, there is truly a feeling that does not create more opportunities for women. Unfortunately one of the big barriers is that too many women are positioning themselves out of school in roles where the leadership opportunities are limited, which was the case for me in professional development. Our organization had a manager, it had a director, and, unless that director left, there was nowhere for me to go but out.
For me, one of the biggest opportunities for recognizing my future leadership potential when I did go out on my own was through negotiation, which is something we’re going to talk a lot about today. And I don’t mean negotiation in terms of creating a situation where women in our organizations are constantly asking for more money, but rather when we start to see that approximately 20% of women well never negotiate, what that actually is showing us is that women are playing small roles within our company and that’s hurting us. A recent study by the American Association of University Women revealed that within a year after graduating from college Gen Y women are already earning $7,600 a year less per year than their male counterparts for this very reason. And the fear of negotiating as I alluded to a moment ago is symptomatic of a much larger problem. And so before we dive into our actionable to-dos I want to invite us to reset some of our thinking and behavior about the “problem” with why we are not grooming more women for leadership.
So, there is often an assumption that pay equity will create leadership equity. As many of you who are here you probably know women statistically are still making depending on what stat you look at between $.77 and $.79 to the dollar for the same work that men are performing. But, here’s the problem with that. It’s not that in most organizations there is conscience by it. Pay equity is just one piece of retaining high potential women. Why, you might ask. There was an article that came out in the New York Times in the early INAUDIBLE called The Opt-Out Generation and traced the generation of women who are in their late 20s and early 30s who, around their childbearing years, decided to take a break from being in the workplace. There was another article that came out almost a decade later about the same generation of women that was now trying to opt back in and having a variety of difficulties in that regard. From skill set to lack of confidence to technology evolving and then not feeling like they were engaged anymore. Now it’s easy to say that this is just one subset group of women that was having difficulties, but I want to start to bring together what I shared a little bit earlier around negotiation and pay with this other theme of women who are opting out to highlight the problem with not having a platform or a way for women to feel like they stay in organizations, earn what they are worth, and be able to have families in a way that doesn’t drive them completely bonkers. Another assumption to lay the foundation for where we are going to go that high potential women need more female role models and mentors. Again, not to say that this is wrong, but rather it is just a piece of the puzzle we are trying put together. High potential women (just like high potential men) need champions and sponsors (as well as mentors) who are female and male. One look at the majority of leadership positions within our organization the truth is is that those positions are still held by men and in our desire to be able to create cultures that are more conducive to women, often times we are actually shortchanging emerging female leaders by creating silos of women’s leadership where senior women are mentoring or championing emerging female leaders but we are not inviting senior men into the solution and having them stand up for and promote women in our organization.
Now I want to just take a moment to differentiate what I mean by champion versus sponsors versus mentors. A mentor is somebody is going to share his or her career trajectory, offer career advice, but is not necessarily going to help somebody that he or she is mentoring get access opportunities. Now, a champion or sponsor on the other hand is somebody who’s going to go to that for an emerging leader. Often times when an emerging leader isn’t even in the room. It’s important for women to have access not just to folks on the career development side although that is important, and rather what we really need to address, and I’ll give you some strategies how we do that moving forward, is how do we ensure that those who are holding leadership positions and title are invested and are advocating on behalf of emerging female leaders?
Next assumption, we need more women in our leadership development programs. Not inherently disagreeing, but again there is a little bit of a problem with just concluding that statement at this place. Women need access to leadership development opportunities that address a variety of things that are not necessarily addressed in traditional leadership programs including mindset challenges, particular skills that they might not have access to, as well as environmental factors. And we will talk about this quite a bit more moving forward.
Next assumption, we need to empower women to create more aggressive career development plans. The majority of millennial women, and by millennials I’m talking about that generation that I am just on the cusp of who is born between 1980 and 2000. The majority of young female leaders or millennials who were surveyed when asked what their future aspirations are don’t say the C suite they don’t say a vice presidential role. What they say is they would like autonomy; they would like to be able to have work-life integration and they might want to opt out of working full time for an employer and have their own business. The problem is not a lack of ambition; the problem is not seeing a pathway for being able to have the life one wants within the realities of our existing organization. Therefore, women need support in our companies in creating career development plans that allow for career interruptions and leverage lateral as well as upward mobility. So despite a lot of progress on how families are created, we know that unfortunately the majority of women who choose to have their own families are still the primary decision makers with respect to childcare. Women are still in families the person most often tasked with caring for an elderly parent. And so whether one has a career interruption for one of these reasons are potentially both of these reasons, we need to ensure that women don’t feel like those interruptions mean they have to opt out and rather that there are ways for them to be able to stay engaged in work even if the way they work has to for a period of time evolve.
Next assumption, cultivating a female leadership pipeline is the right thing to do. Now I’ve heard this a lot over the years and it makes me laugh somewhat because it is somewhat like telling a child you need to brush your teeth because it’s the right thing to do. Or you should reuse your towels in a hotel because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not a very persuasive argument and the good news is that there are many, many more reasons why we should invest. Cultivating a female leadership pipeline makes sound business sense. So there are myriad statistics and studies and we will look at some momentarily that show executive teams with higher levels of female participation makes better decisions than executive teams that are predominantly male. We know that when women are earning their worth they are more able to be high performers in the workplace because they are not pulled in multiple directions, they have the resources that they need, now, financially for child care, to be able to contribute to their family, to pay off student loans, and so forth. We also know that women are the majority of our college graduates and they were the first ones back to work after the recession. Which means that if we have a new generation of women who are more poised to lead then the next generation of men, we will have one of the biggest crises in human capital if we let them leak out of our organizations and fail to cultivate their leadership potential.
In terms of the business case, it’s also a phenomenal way for organizations to effectively recruit top talent when women know that there’s opportunities to move up and it is of course also a way to retain top talent and not to have to invest in constantly replenishing managers and directors if they leave because they feel like they are stuck. And we’ll see you in a moment this of course is not just my conjecturing, the research most definitely supports this.
You might be thinking at this point, Alexia, you are throwing a lot of facts and figures my way; what the heck am I supposed to do with this? Now I will be totally honest with you I am not somebody who is obsessed with research. I know that research is important. I love the qualitative, but I want to make sure that I am integrating some of the quantitative as we move through because as I recognize not everyone gets moved to action quite the same way that I do. So what do we know for sure? Let’s start to draw some conclusions here. Companies with three or more women in top leadership positions achieve higher scores for each criterion of organizational effectiveness than do companies with few or no women at the top, according to McKinsey.
In its 2012 report, Women at the Wheel, one of the largest studies of startup organizations, Dow Jones conducted a study of venture backed companies and concluded that companies have a greater chance of going public, operating profitably, or being sold for more money than they’ve raised when there are women who are acting as founders, board members, C level officers, vice presidents, and directors.
What we also know for sure is according to Catalyst, one of the largest organizations that puts out research on women’s role in the workplace that companies with the most female Board of Directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales by 16% as well as return on investment capital by 26%. And in 2014 Google, frequently rated as one of the best companies to work for, shared that while women comprise just 30% of its global workforce and 21% of its leadership, with that said, its highest performing teams across the organization had one or more women in top leadership positions.
So, we if know that the numbers are not great, let’s begin to look at what are some of the best practices that are in place for organizations who are getting it right. What we know for sure, according to Diversity Inc.’s top 10 companies for executive women is that companies that are phenomenal for executive women while first and foremost their boards average 27.5% women versus what is typically 15% or less. Now I’m not suggesting that 27.5% is a good number, but that should be the minimum we are striving for in terms of making sure that our executive teams are comprised of enough women to make those critical decisions. We know that women comprise almost 1/3, however, of the senior-level so much better than they are for boards, in terms of CEO and their direct-reports versus just 17.7% of Fortune 500 companies. We know that in the best companies for executive women the overall management so we are talking about managers/directors not just senior-level, VPs, and C-suite are 47% female. And we know that, and this one is a stat to particularly highlight, that 68% of female managers have participated in some kind of mentorship program to prepare them not only for the tactical in terms of what they need in order to be able to lead, but that those successful managers who ultimately go on to be directors and VPs have also had opportunities to address their mindset, the environment, some of those things that are not typically discussed in a traditional leadership program.
Now, here’s what I know for sure. As I mentioned, I had the opportunity to attend an all-girls’ middle school and high school, and by the time I had graduated I felt very comfortable speaking up and out. That continued in college and graduate school, and then when I found myself in organization where, although we were primarily women, some of the top leadership positions were still held by men. There was an implicit understanding that, while women could certainly put their voices out there, that ultimately it was the men in senior leadership positions who got to make the primary decisions, particularly in terms of the financial direction our organization was headed. And when I ultimately left and got trained as a coach and started to consult, typically on Gen Y and millennial issues within organizations, very few people ever really wanted to talk about gender and despite that being a prevailing theme in my life, I didn’t talk about it a whole lot until I was asked to keynote a millennial leadership conference. And I want to give you a little bit of background because the epiphany that I had their not only changed the course of my career, but it has also changed the way that I look at how to ensure that we are creating female leaders in an effective way in our organizations. So I had the opportunity to show up to this event that I was keynoting a little bit early, which, for those of you who go to conferences know oftentimes keynote speaker just arrives, they do their thing, they are back on a plane at the end of the day. And, I arrived in time to watch the pitch fest that the participants in this leadership conference were participating in. Now the participants were 50% female, 50% male. Average age was between 22 and 25 years old and each person had several minutes to be able to share his or her big idea that he or she was hypothetically pitching for funding. And all the audience, again 50% female, 50% male, had an opportunity to vote for the speakers that they felt presented the best idea. The one that had the potential to be most profitable. And, I was floored when all 10 of the finalists were men. And as I often do whenever I get a little peeved about something I took to social media and started asking why are we, and I think this was 2007 or 2008, why are we privileging male voices when to be sure the pitches that were presented were uniformly phenomenal between the men and the women. And what started to emerge were a couple of themes. Both men and women were saying that they voted based on the leaders they saw who projected the most confidence, and when pushed to identify what does the performance of confidence look like, they talked about taking up space, being loud, not being dismissible. And yet when asked which were the leaders that you would’ve followed, who were the leaders that most inspired you to want to give your time, your energy or your money to, almost across the board everyone said female, both men and women. And yet they were not making the connection that the person who they wanted to be led by was a more effective leader. They were falling to the traps of what the good leadership looks like. As a result of that experience, I became really passionate about first demystifying what we talk about with respect to the leadership, and will do that in a moment, but second, making sure that women first and foremost have an opportunity to develop the confidence that is needed, but that our organizations are not privileging a masculine model of leadership. One that is predicated on a model that is outdated and what emerging leaders are saying isn’t actually the most compelling for them.
So, let’s get clear on our leadership priorities. We want to create a culture conducive to female retention and leadership. We want to communicate leadership opportunities within our organizations and be transparent about what that decision-making process is. We want to establish and strengthen leadership development programs so that they are addressing women’s often unmet needs, whether we are keeping women in traditional multi-gender leadership development programs or creating single-sex ones and will go over some of the pros and cons of each. And we also want to avoid the pitfalls that can undermine good intentions, that can undermine well-conceived initiatives.
So, here’s a moment for some truth telling. At any point, if you’ve got questions please feel free to enter them into the question box in your control panel and I will be going through and addressing them. But the first series of questions that I want to ask you to consider with respect to your companies culture includes does your company’s culture promote stretch assignments that require relocation? Does your company’s culture provide training on and acceptance for different communication and work styles? Does your company impede work-family integration through its policies whether those are explicit policies or just the way you operate? Does your company’s culture penalize women for maternity leave? Now I’m not suggesting penalizing as breaking HR law, but does it make it difficult for women let’s say to be able to stay engaged with working if they want to? I worked with the client recently that had a policy that I’m now learning is more and more required particularly in the legal field where when people are on maternity leave, they don’t have access to their work email. Now this might sound like it’s a policy that is meant to benefit women, but if women are not able to at least check their email during their six weeks or 12 weeks of leave, to just stay abreast of what has been unfolding, you can see how that actually is a way to penalize women even if the intention is to give women time to be home with their families. So when I ask this particular question think through not just what the formal policies are, but what some of the perhaps unintended impact is. Does your company’s culture potentially perpetuate unconscious bias? So, Google for example, when they were looking at ways that they could better address gender equity, recognized that most of their meeting rooms were actually name for prominent men in technology rather than for women and men. They also decided that when creating their work-life policy most of those decision makers were men and it was missing women’s voices. And I would love to hear from a few folks, I know that when you type into the questions box, nobody sees what you are sharing other than me, and normally I don’t read back people’s names, but what are you starting to recognize just about your culture and the role it does or does not play in making it a space that is conducive to women leaders?
And just take a moment and share what are you recognizing is helpful and what might be getting in the way. So we got a few questions starting to come in. What does relocation have to do with women’s leadership?
So this is a great question. Often times as leaders are being promoted, often times from moving out of management levels or director levels relocation starts to be required. The average age where a woman starts to move into a director position is usually in her early to mid 30s which coincidentally is often the time one is starting to think about having a family. And so oftentimes relocation whether it’s just more travel or it’s a full-time relocation happening right at that time, it is forcing women to make the choice between family and career rather than looking at what are opportunities for women to potentially continue to advance during those child bearing years when they don’t necessarily have that same level of flexibility.
So continue to share any insights that you might be having and we will continue to move forward and I’ll bring those back into the conversation.
So how do we identify our high potential women? I’m going to share with you a variety of different ways and in doing so I also want to advocate the best strategy is not a unilateral one, meaning that leadership assessments, for example, can be incredibly helpful whether you’re using the leadership potential inventory or DDI. Because no one tactic ever captures all of human capital, the best strategy is looking at various different ways to make those identifications, and again coming back to transparency, being clear within your organization which ones you are using so people understand how talent is being identified and then cultivated. In addition to leadership assessments of course there are performance appraisals. Some organizations are doing traditional evaluations every 30, 60, 90, 120 days, once or twice a year. Others are employing 360s; this can be another effective way that is not just looking at leadership according to some outside organization’s determination but rather based on what is required for leaders in one’s organization to be successful. Stack ranking, which I will be quite honest, I am not as much of an advocate of, which is simply looking at all of your staff within the department or potentially across departments within the company and literally ranking someone from number one all the way upwards to 100, 1,000, 10,000, in terms of performance. What we know about stack ranking, however, that it is one of the least effective ways to measure potential because usually it is a static ranking that is not taking in outside factors. Manager nominations, so, oftentimes ones direct manager can do much more effective at qualitative assessment then surveys or assessments can do. Another way that is being used in more and more organizations is senior leaders identifying actively sponsoring a new high potential each year. So again slightly different than mentorship. It’s not just sharing career advice but rather taking someone under his or her tutelage looking for opportunities within the organization for that person to develop skills to potentially work on stretch assignment, helping that person see where they can go even if it’s not necessarily up. It might be lateral, to a different department, and in a different department then there might be opportunities for that person to continue or advance. Also employee self identification and application. One might think to him or herself, well, gosh, isn’t every employee going to say I’m interested in leadership and that’s just going to be kind of a messy situation? And I’ll actually push back and say no, that oftentimes we think we know who in our organization is interested in leadership and there can be disconnect with who actually is. When I created my Influencer Academy, which is a nine-month women’s leadership program here in Las Vegas and worked with HR departments in terms of identifying candidates for that program. Perhaps not too surprisingly in the first year, a lot of HR leaders said, well, we want to look to senior managers we want to look at directors, want to look at new VPs. And, to be sure, those folks had a pretty terrific experience in the program. They cultivated their leadership skills, they did a much more effective job going back to their organization and bringing up the men and women just behind them. But I had an interesting situation happen in year two of the program where one of the leaders who had started out as a manager and by the end of the program had been promoted to director, said, I actually want to send one of our coordinators to the program this next year if that’s okay with you. And I said absolutely because I’ve never been somebody who thought leadership was about title, and she said, I think one of the biggest problems in our organization as we are not thinking about leadership until someone is already in a leadership position. In this person, who is the coordinator, was fascinated about the experience I was having in terms of my leadership development. And, the truth is in many ways she INAUDIBLE leadership than even I do because she’s in charge of a warehouse, she is responsible in an environment where she’s the only woman overseeing many men, but because of the warehouse position the title is coordinator rather than manager or director. And that person participated in the program, probably would’ve been passed over if she had not gone to her direct supervisor and said that she wanted investment and it’s just been a win-win for the organization. So, oftentimes when we allow people to self identify and say they are interested in leadership experiences, it can be a really worthwhile opportunity particularly when we start addressing leadership not when somebody is already in that role, but when they might be in a more administrative or coordinator role.
So when we talk about leadership competencies, I want to go for a moment to the Center for Creative Leadership that did a study a couple of years back around well what are the most important leadership competencies or next-generation leaders, and how do we make sure that we are actually aligning what we are doing in our organizations with said leadership competencies? And what they identified were first effective communication, probably no surprises there. Whether we’re talking about interpersonal communication, negotiation, persuading, presenting one’s ideas. Second what came up was self motivation and discipline. So, leaders who are able to be self-directed, who are able to tap their own motivators, they are not looking for other people to do it for them, and you have the discipline to hunker down and get their work done. What came up third was learning agility. So the ability and willingness to learn from one’s experience, and subsequently applied that learning to form successfully under new or first time conditions. Adaptability, so, close to learning agility but with respect to being flexible in terms of how one works, when challenges arise how one is able to pivot. And fifth, self-awareness.
Now, I want to pause here for a moment because these are the five most important leadership competencies that were identified not according to gender but in terms of what next-generation leaders will need. And when I say next-generation of leaders, we are looking at Gen X, but just as importantly you are looking at millennials because we know the baby boomers continue to retire, approximately 80 million of them that with only 40 million Gen Xers behind, there’s going to be a leadership gap and so while millennials had the highest rates of unemployment during our most recent recession, unfortunately they are also going to be pegged to lead much more quickly than they are generational predecessors because there are going to be those open positions. But, I digress. There are important gender factors we have to look at in all these different areas.
So, with respect to communication, we know that one of the areas where women struggle the most is in using self-defeating language. Language such as just or so, as a way to hedge and to make what their ideas are going to be a little bit safer. Using statements such as I believe or I think or providing too much content is another way where women often get in their own way in effective communication. In addition, apologizing. Whether they are overtly saying I’m sorry for something that really doesn’t require an apology or apologizing with one’s body language, not taking up space, actively crossing one’s arms. As we are looking at how do we develop more effective communicators, we have to make sure that we are paying particular attention to these areas where women often struggle. I’m actually going to skip through self-motivation and discipline and learning agility to now move to self-awareness which is one of those areas where we know women are actually often are the strongest. Women have a tendency to take a lot of time to reflect on how they have done. To be able to apply that thinking and awareness to how they take action moving forward. When we create our next generation of leaders, some of the things that we are doing can happen in a situation or in a learning environment where we have men and women. But, there are particular things that can happen much more effectively when we give women opportunities to address some of the areas for growth in single-sex environments.
So let’s talk about some of those real as well as self-imposed barriers that get women in their own way. There are no shortage of books over the last 15 years that talk about these issues. So what are some of the real barriers? Well the reality that birthing and planning for children still rests predominantly with women and at the age when women are often having highest leadership potential as women postpone having kids there’s often a conflict between the two. We know that there are fewer role models in leadership and in life for women in terms of looking at other women and so many women are following a male model of influence. We have course know we still haven’t achieved pay equity, but I am equally interested in what are their self-imposed barriers that often get women in their own way. Failing to negotiate, not applying for opportunities unless all of the criteria are met versus men are more likely to apply for leadership opportunities or new career opportunities if just over half of the qualifications they need. Something Cheryl Sandberg talks quite a bit about in Lean In and how men and women respond to feedback. So, returning to those five areas or effective leadership that next generation leaders need effective communication, self-motivation and discipline, learning agility, adaptability, and self-awareness. While women tend to score much higher in self-awareness than men, the downside of that is sometimes there is a little too much self-awareness. Women often times give themselves much more critical feedback than what their managers or their directors give. And so in terms of shifting culture where we give women feedback, we need to help women recognize that feedback is a gift. Something they should actively go after so that they can enhance their performance rather than fearing it.
So what can happen in a single-sex leadership development for women? Well, the statistics show us that first and foremost it can often empower women to leadership much faster. Here are some concrete examples. Some of our top organizations from Coca-Cola, Walmart, Colgate-Palmolive, American Express, and Deloitte all have single-sex leadership development programs for women. We know that 30% of BusinessWeek’s list of corporate rising stars graduated from single-sex colleges and universities where they had opportunities to address some of these issues we have been talking about. 30% of board members of Fortune 1000 companies also graduated from single-sex colleges and universities. So what is actually happening in these environments most importantly? A bunch of things.
There’s opportunities to address some of those gender specific areas for improving effective interpersonal communication both in terms of the verbals but also in terms of the nonverbals. One of the things that I have seen both in the work that I do through my Influencer Academy and other organizations is that when women are in an environment where men are not present they are much more likely to play with their leadership persona. To bring out their femininity, and by femininity to be clear, I’m not talking about sexuality at all. But rather they are much more comfortable practicing how they tell stories, how they use humor, how they use their arms, how they walk through space and are able to receive real-time feedback on that communication so that when they are in situations where they are being tasked to lead they have made their mistakes already, they have gotten comfortable, they have gotten the flaws out and now they feel safe to transfer that insight into action. With respect to communication one of the reasons why men, while of course they still need leadership development on communication, they are much more likely to take risks and try out their behaviors in low-stake situations. They don’t need as much role-playing because they’ve gotten some out the kinks already. Some of the other core competencies to develop include the ability to negotiate. As I said earlier this is not just about salary. So, negotiating on behalf of clients, negotiating on behalf of your company, negotiating for more role responsibility. Those who effectively negotiate not just on behalf of themselves, but who know how to do it on behalf of their organizations, that’s an effective leadership skill we want for emerging leaders. Presenting a persuasive case, so I found this statistic really interesting that women are typically much more effective presenters than men when they are presenting on behalf of another organization or a nonprofit or charitable cause. But when asked to present their own ideas, this is the area where they often struggle. Facilitating learning and growth for others, so this can happen when women are given a space where they are able to ask questions and see how their questions land, they are able to see how to give feedback and as a result of getting more comfortable giving feedback or often men giving and applying feedback to themselves. Other core competencies to develop include being able to effectively coach up and down and to make clear when I’m talking about coaching up I don’t mean necessarily just giving one supervisor feedback but rather setting that person up to be more successful. The ability to initiate difficult conversations. Being able to actually transfer those difficult conversations into daring ones. This is another area where women really benefit from being in single-sex learning environments, being able to talk about this uncomfortable subjects that sometimes arise that are not overtly discriminatory but might make women feel uncomfortable and go silent. This is an opportunity where women are able to talk about some of the home concerns that they have that seep into the workplace and learn strategies and techniques for being able to address them so that home life doesn’t impact their performance when they are at work. And ultimately career development and thought leadership. So I’ve spoken a little bit about the fact that it does not serve women, it doesn’t serve men either but it particularly doesn’t serve women to talk about a career trajectory as being inherently linear and giving women the opportunity to see how can they develop careers that support all aspects of their life. Giving them opportunities to speak on behalf of their organizations, conferences, contribute articles to trade publications. These are all the things we want to be able to do in our leadership development programming for women.
So what are some of the best practices to steal? So after spending the better part of the last five or six years working with organizations on women’s leadership and applying those best practices to the creation of my own program were women throughout Las Vegas who are in different industries come together, some of those best practices include as I said before giving women a rehearsal space to try out and refine their skills and behavior. Letting women cultivate relationships inside and outside of their departments. So because women’s leadership is often activated when women let’s say don’t stay in HR, but they might move to learning and development or they may move to organizational development, giving them opportunities to receive leadership not just from their direct supervisor, and sometimes not even just within their own organization, but learning best practices from others. Making sure that we have men in our organizations who are leaders mentoring and championing rising female stars. Addressing motherhood without overemphasizing it. And this one is critical. Oftentimes companies don’t know how to talk about the M word without suggesting that all women are going to become mothers. Now we know that statistically the majority of women will have children at some point in their lives, so it’s naïve not to have an effective way to address it. But one of the best practices that we can steal is giving women spaces to be able to talk about it so they see what their options are before suddenly they are pregnant now an organization is handling the situation by default rather than by design. Offering internal and external development opportunities. Here in my home base in Las Vegas there’s a lot of phenomenal work that is industry specific just as I’m sure it is in your organization or in your industry. Gaming folks do a lot of leadership development in gaming. Financial services there is a lot of financial services training. But there’s a lot of best practices in leadership that cross industries, so giving both men and particularly women in your organization opportunities not just to grow internally but also externally. Encouraging women as I said a few moments ago to speak at conferences, contribute articles, serve on panels, can be a phenomenal way to both give confidence but also to increase competence and room for leadership. And re-envisioning what female leadership looks like. How do you create examples within your organization so women recognize that they don’t have to follow a masculine model of what leadership looks like and can embrace their own values, their own strengths, their own gifts.
When looking at what are examples of leadership that explode this notion I want to talk about well, what are the two most prevailing notions of how women can lead within our organization. Now of course this is dramatic, but oftentimes women feel like they are torn within our organization between having to be the bunny, someone who is kind, who is agreeable, who is gentle, who doesn’t ever lose her cool. Or, on the flip side she is somebody who is very strong, sometimes perhaps abrasive, who doesn’t ask for feedback, who makes it known that it is her way or the highway, who people are scared of. And, just for fun, I want to pause at that, and if we are thinking in the animal realm of what the model of female leadership we are seeking to create within our organizations, is ideally moving beyond the bunny and moving beyond the dragon to something like a cheetah. Now, if you know anything about cheetahs, I had a father growing up who absolutely adored the Animal Planet so I watched a lot of cheetahs in my day. You’ll know that they are incredibly intense, but not intense in a way that turns other animals off. They are intense in terms of being very focused on what they want but also being really keen observers. So they will often hold back on its feeding time and let other animals get what they need before they feed and get what they need. In addition to being phenomenal observers, and applying what they are seeing to how they behave, they also are incredibly flexible and agile and they know how to accelerate when needed. So they can accelerate and move faster in the wild than any other animal in the animal kingdom. These are gifts that women have as well and long as we are privileging them and creating cultures where they are able to come out in our organizations.
So here are some of the pitfalls to avoid. Tasking women in leadership programs with more responsibility without more resources. There is nothing worse than saying we are trying to create a culture where we are growing more female leaders and now you’re participating in all of this extra programming and we are not adjusting your current work schedule. Or you are now engaging in a leadership development project and that needs to fall outside of your work hours. So we want to make sure that whatever leadership initiatives we are creating get integrated within the role and responsibilities that women have so they can be successful in them. Some of the other pitfalls to avoid, making women’s leadership something that gets checked off of a list, isn’t incorporated within everything else you’re doing to develop human capital. While I have given plenty of INAUDIBLE interactive trainings in my day and women’s leadership unfortunately, unless there is follow-up work with management, and it becomes a strategic priority of senior leadership, women’s leadership initiatives unfortunately just are not successful. Incorporating best principles from organizations whether you look at models that have been popular with Coca-Cola, or Palmolive or Deloitte or you look at programs like Influencer Academy and how we meet different leadership competencies through a nine-month sequential curriculum, the key is that you make them relevant to your company and to your culture.
Reserving leadership development for managers, directors, and VPs. Even if you don’t have your entry-level young professionals or your coordinators participating, you want to think through how can you start tapping and identifying your high potentials and doing something so that when they are promoted to management and director positions they can be successful. Failing to measure the success of your initiatives. Now success is going, how you define success is going to be different. In some cases it’s going to better retention. In other cases it is going to be more women who are in director, VPs, C suite or board roles, the key is that you are first engineered from that angle, and create assessments throughout whatever you are doing that can track accordingly.
And finally, and perhaps, most importantly, making sure that within your organization you are not pitting women against one another for opportunities. I found it really interesting when I was having a conversation with a senior leader at an organization here in Las Vegas recently about influencer. And she said I’m really concerned about identifying a couple of women in our organization for your program because I don’t want it to seem like we are closing the door on other women who have leadership potential in our organization and I don’t want to create a catty environment. And I really had to take pause when she shared that feedback because often times as women we see women who are promoted for opportunities and we say great, she got that one position at the top and where does that leave me? And men don’t fall into this trap because let’s face it, then don’t feel like there is a shortage of opportunities. They see lots of men who are being successful and have the opposite reaction. When they see someone who has been able to make that leap or achieve, they think great that means I can do it too. And that’s the kind of culture we want to promote in our organizations around women’s leadership is that yes, of course there’s going to be some people who are promoted to leadership and others aren’t, but as we see more and more people being pegged for these opportunities we wanted to invite other people to see that that is possible for them and to work toward that.
So, what do we want to offer rising female leaders? Participation in a formal leadership development program whether that’s internal or external can be an effective way to do that. Maybe you create your own version of an Influencer Academy within your organization where every year you have a cohort of 10 or 20 30 women who go through some kind of sequential curriculum together or maybe you invest in an outside program that fits your organization’s needs and every year you have an open application process and you find one or two or three or five or 10 however many women you can budget to go through that experience. Coaching, around these different competencies that we talked about with particular attention to drawing out the areas where women tend to be strong and of course equally prioritizing the areas where women struggle can be with the designated coach within your organization or with somebody’s direct supervisor.
Two properties here in Las Vegas that are part of MGM Resort, Luxor and Excalibur, made a rather bold decision several years back to put all managers and those above in leadership positions through a coach training program they all got certified recognizing that if we want folks to be successful managers, one of the most important skills is coaching. Coaching is an area that tends to be predominantly female and this can be a great way to be able to invest in your female leaders and give them the skills they need if they’re going to be managers in the future. Stretch assignments, so, oftentimes these were removed in the years but between 2008, 2012, 2013, but as companies are becoming more profitable again look at are there opportunities within your organization to allow your leaders, particularly women, if you’re looking to invest in your female human capital to be able to try a different assignment maybe in a different office for a period of time. I also have seen a lot of organizations being incredibly successful with offering employees at a particular level their own customizable professional development stipend, whether that’s $500 or $1000 a year, the employee gets to decide do I use this to go to a conference in my industry, do I take a continuing education class at our local university that gives me experience in an area that I need, or can I apply that to a lengthier leadership development program so it serves as some kind of reimbursement? And of course circling back to sponsorship and mentoring.
So, how do you take what we have discussed today and ensure that your company succeeds moving forward? You want to ensure that senior leadership buys into it, but does not own the process. Now I hope that we have senior leaders who have joined us on this webinar today, but if for any reason that is not the case, my hope is that you are able to bring them into the conversation early so that they are aware and they can help create a culture where employees recognize that this is not just another fad or another initiative we are going to try, but it’s really being institutionalized within the culture of our organizations and that employees understand what is the payoff not just to women but to women and men when we create a culture where women are empowered to lead. You want to make sure that it’s not a policy that is just being propagated by HR or just by direct management, but that HR and management our strategic partners in developing the people and programs based on the leadership competencies that you are seeking to develop.
I recommend looking at multiple processes and having multiple people involved in who is going to be pegged for your leadership opportunities. And being realistic, this is not going to happen overnight, be flexible. Measure, see what’s working and adjust accordingly. And to return to the question I asked a little bit earlier about was your company doing these things that can either positively impact or in some cases negatively impact opportunities for female leaders in your organizations. Identify and plug up any of those leaks where women might be leaving. And of course you can apply this to how are you doing an effective job at ensuring minorities are set up see in your organization as well.
So before we have a few minutes for questions I want to ask you to consider where is your company strong in its female leadership pipeline, based on what we discussed today? Where is there room for growth? In other words, where can you plug up some of those leaks? What competencies are you developing your leadership programming around? And are they the right ones? Are you developing leaders who have the capacity to be effective interpersonal communicators to be self-motivated and disciplined, learning agile and adaptable self-aware, and are you accounting for the fact that women have different struggles in these areas that are often unaddressed in traditional leadership programs? How are you creating a culture that supports its women? Remind yourself what is that financial upside for doing so. And, perhaps most importantly the final two questions what specifically are you committed to doing as a result of today’s learning? I would love it if you would just pop any a-ha that you had into that question section because often times when people hear one another’s takeaways, it prompts something for them. And where do you need ongoing support to be successful? And be realistic here. How can you ensure you are able to take forward action? If you recognize that you just don’t have the resources within your organization it may mean bringing in an external consultant to help you co-create what your leadership development program is or perhaps to lead it him or herself. Maybe recognize that your already have a great program, but, you just need to have a facilitated session with senior leadership to help them buy in. Or maybe you just need to re-energize a mentorship program you have and you want to bring male senior leaders in so it’s not just women mentoring emerging female leaders. But whatever it is, if there’s anything I can do to support you further, whether it’s by having a follow-up conversation or whether you want to talk about keynotes or trainings that I do, I would love to continue to connect. And Sarah will share how we can do that momentarily.
SARAH: All right, great, that was wonderful. Thank you so much. We probably have time for about one or two questions, so, attendees go ahead and submit those questions now and while we wait let me just share a little bit about how to keep in touch. Alexia’s contact information is on that slide right now. So if you have any questions, just go ahead and email her after the session. And then, as always, you can always connect with us on any social media network, Facebook, Twitter, and, don’t forget to register for our weekly webinar Wednesdays at HRDQU.com.
So, we do have some questions coming in. So, I’m going to go ahead and get to our first one right now. It looks like that one is coming from Mary: How do you suggest getting senior leadership on board with female leadership development?
ALEXIA: That’s a great question. I recommend sharing with them the slides that you have so that they recognize the financial case that I have found is the greatest entry point. They realize that there is money to be saved and money to be made, both, as a result of making this investment.
SARAH: All right, great, thank you. And our next question is coming from Naheed: I really like the cheetah analogy. I was told yesterday by a senior manager that I need to bite harder. Can you recommend a specific book or article about this?
ALEXIA: Absolutely. I can recommend a lot but so you’re not overwhelmed, two of my favorite recent books that have come out that look at just practical ways for women to as you would say bite harder. One is Emily Bennington’s Who Says it’s a Man’s World, really actionable to-dos tfor women who are at various stages of their career development and another book that’s looking as much as the mindset as the tactical is Tara Mohr, her book Playing Big.
SARAH: All right, perfect, thank you and we do have some great questions but that is all the time we have for today. So, Alexia, would you just like to add any final thoughts before I go ahead and close out this session?
ALEXIA: Just a reminder that, I know I threw a lot of information at you over the course of the last hour and as you continue to absorb it all and look at and how to take action, feel free to reach out to me because what I care most about is that you are able to implement and be successful.
SARAH: All right, great, thank you so much, Alexia again. And also I know that there were few questions that we did not get time to answer, so we’re going to go ahead and put those into a Word document and send them over to Alexia so she can answer and then you will receive an email response to those questions probably about mid next week. So we appreciate your time and we hope you found today’s webinar informative. Thank you.
The glass ceiling is shattered. Or is it? While women are attending college and graduate school in greater numbers than men, women still earn approximately $.77 to every dollar that men make for equal work. Out of the Fortune 500, only 24 companies have women as CEOs (and 23 Fortune 500 companies have no female board directors). Yet thanks to studies by organizations such as Dow Jones and McKinsey & Company, it’s now common knowledge that companies with multiple women serving in senior leadership positions outperform those with minimal female leadership. So why are women not better represented in senior leadership positions? And what role can organizations play in addressing the particular needs of high potential women that are often unmet in traditional leadership development programs?
In this interactive webinar women’s leadership expert Alexia Vernon demystifies what emerging female leaders need—with respect to mentoring, coaching, and skill development—in order to be competitive and succeed in more senior leadership positions. Presenting research and real-world examples, she provides actionable recommendations for addressing women’s perceived lack of ambition, confidence, and skill. She identifies which of the top leadership competencies women struggle with most—and how companies can adjust traditional leadership development programs to empower women in these areas.
Participants Will Learn
- Increase organizational effectiveness and profitability by understanding the fundamental ingredients of creating a leadership pipeline for high potential women.
- Discover how best in class women’s leadership initiatives and programs meet female leaders’ professional and learning needs.
- Explore how to create non-traditional leadership development, stretch assignments, and mentoring opportunities to support professional women with families.
- Apply your knowledge of why so many women’s leadership development efforts fail to the creation and/or adjustment of your own mentorship, coaching, and skill development programs.
Who Should Attend
- Vice Presidents, Directors, and Managers of Learning and Development
- Vice Presidents, Directors, and Managers of HR
- Organizational Trainers and Coaches
- Departmental Managers
- External Executive Coaches and Consultants
Branded a “Moxie Maven” by the White House for her unique and effective approach to women’s leadership development, Alexia Vernon is the Founder and Director of Influencer Academy, a 9-month program for female leaders seeking to cultivate their skills in public speaking, persuasion, negotiation, coaching, facilitation, and high impact interpersonal communication. A former women’s studies and public speaking professor, Alexia has contributed to media including CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, Inc., Forbes, and Women’s Health. To learn more about Alexia and Influencer Academy, visit http://www.InfluencerAcademy.com.