I’ve talked a good deal in these blogs about how to develop female talent, but not so much about how to retain that talent. Admittedly, it’s not always easy. Frustration can run high among talented women, and when it does they can look for greener pastures.
My experience has shown that certain strategies can make a significant difference in retaining your female talent, your future corporate leaders. Here are six of the most effective:
1. Show your talented women that they are valued: with words—and more importantly, with actions
There are many ways to encourage and acknowledge your female talent—formally and informally. Certainly, the obvious approaches are crucial: raises, promotions, training and development. But more regular and on-going affirmation is needed as well and should include: complements, plum assignments, opportunities to mentor and train others, team leadership Also, go the extra mile with your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy by ensuring everyone (especially managers) adopts inclusive behaviors and understands the impact of second generation gender bias.
2. Be an active listener
Don’t ever be too busy to hear—really hear—what your talented women have to say. Listen for how a woman discusses her role… how she sees herself contributing to the organization and what challenges and struggles she is experiencing. You will gain invaluable insights into how to best coach and support her growth and development. Additionally, by listening, you are sending a message that the person is valued and worth your time.
3. Facilitate their visibility
Evidence shows that women, as a rule, are not as good as men at making themselves seen and heard at the levels of management that matter. Women tend to focus more on being top performers than on forging relationships. Advise your talented women on why competence alone is not enough…on how they can take a more prominent seat at the table…how they can make connections that will facilitate their success. Help women articulate the value they bring to the company because research shows women often miss the importance of tying their development to the business, Then, make the introductions to those who matter and help the women be in the right place at the right time.
4. Meet your talented women where they are…but show them where they can be
Research indicates that men tend to take on stretch assignments, then learn the position; while women want to know they can do the assignment before taking it on. As a result, you may know and believe that a woman is ready for the next step up in her career, but she may see it differently. She may think she doesn’t have what it takes to manage a larger team or she may be comfortable staying where she is and doing what she knows. Make sure you acknowledge her ideas and feelings on the matter while emphasizing your confidence in her potential. Also, make sure she understands that this is an on-going dialog to be revisited by both you and her.
5. Custom tailor development to both the women and the organization
One of the things we’ve learned at WOMEN Unlimited is that development never works when it’s off the shelf. It doesn’t work for the women and it doesn’t work for their organizations. Development needs to be fine-tuned so that women embrace it as a springboard for their success and for their growing contribution to corporate success. It’s one reason organizations who send women to our programs enjoy a retention rate of over 88% of those women.
6. Start early
Many organizations make the mistake of waiting too long to put the above 5 approaches into action. By not starting early enough in a woman’s career, you can allow resentment to take hold. Our most successful corporate partners are those who begin the process of nurturing and developing their talented women during the third or fourth year of their careers—or sooner.
We know that people stay in organizations when they feel valued and have opportunities to grow. While there are no guarantees, these strategies have been significant in helping companies retain their high-potential women and in warding off the human and fiscal costs of finding and developing new talent.
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President and CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.