As I pointed out in my last blog, the recent Harvard Business Review article, Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers, resonated with me. The strategies suggested by Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb are very much in sync with what we’ve been doing at WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. for nearly 20 years.
In this blog, I’m going to comment on two critical, yet often overlooked, concepts highlighted in the article: focusing on leadership purpose and creating safe identity workspaces. They are absolute musts if C-suites are to become more heavily populated by talented women. Let’s look at them one at a time.
FOCUSING ON LEADERSHIP PURPOSE
There’s an old quote that says: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead you there.” The flailing about that comes from meeting everyone else’s agenda is something I see often with the talented women who come to our WOMEN Unlimited programs. They forget to ask the question: “What do I want?” It may seem ironic, but in answering that question, they become better qualified to meet their organization’s needs. The meshing of their goals and talents with corporate goals is where enduring, high-level success really happens. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.
The authors of Women Rising put it this way: “Anchoring in purpose enables women to redirect their attention toward shared goals and to consider who they need to be and what they need to learn in order to achieve these goals.” For example, the authors point out that many women will avoid networking, seeing it as “unauthentic” and taking time and focus away from getting the job done. However, when “they see [networking] as a means to a larger purpose, such as developing new business to advance their vision for the company, they are more comfortable engaging in it.” Instilling in talented women the importance of networking and the strategies for going about it, have always been central to WOMEN Unlimited’s approach.
CREATING SAFE IDENTITY WORKSPACES
I alluded to this issue in a previous blog post, when I discussed the importance of a women-only learning environment. Far from isolating women from the real corporate world, it allows them to feel safe and to honestly open up about issues which will further their success in that corporate world. Additionally, there is a sharing of common experiences that both sustains and empowers our program participants.
The authors of Women Rising affirm the importance of the safe setting WOMEN Unlimited provides its attendees: “A safe space for learning, experimentation and community is critical in leadership development programs for women.” They go on to emphasize the importance of peer interaction: “Identifying common experiences increases women’s willingness to talk openly, take risks, and be vulnerable without fearing that others will misunderstand or judge them.” This safe learning environment provided by our programs has helped thousands of women evolve their authentic leadership identities.
To recap the last two blogs: The authors found three areas where traditional leadership development programs for women were lacking: acknowledging second generation bias and how to combat it…helping women define their leadership purpose…and creating safe identity workspaces.
I am pleased to say, all three are part and parcel of the WOMEN Unlimited agenda…and have been for nearly 20 years. As with all our strategies for increasing the number of talented women in the top management pipeline, we continue to adjust and adapt to the changing corporate landscape.
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.