Strategy + Culture: A formula for finding and keeping female talent

Successfully attracting and retaining female talent is a multi-layered process.

It’s a tough time to attract and retain female talent. There’s no doubt about it.

There’s a whole different mindset among the workforce about work/life integration and corporate culture. Women are changing jobs more readily, and there are fewer talented women to take their place. It’s an organizationwide problem from entry level to C-suite.

Organizations are feverishly looking to address this talent crisis. Understandably, but unfortunately, many are tending toward a quick fix approach. What we are seeing too often is expediency thwarting efficacy. For example, companies may launch a one-time, internal leadership development program, or pull together an employee resource group for women or sponsor women to attend a women’s conference. Underlying these efforts is the hope for a “one-and-done” solution — and it is clearly not working.

What’s needed:A multi-layered approach

Our almost 30 years of experience at WOMEN Unlimited have consistently shown that successfully attracting and retaining female talent is a multi-layered process that includes engaging the women themselves, but also doing much more. Developing and supporting female talent is about developing both people and attitudes across the organization:

  • Women themselves must become more adept at managing their careers, at advocating for themselves and at creating allies who will stand up for them when they are not at the table.
  • Managers must develop their skills to coach, encourage and advance those on their teams who are not like them, including women in general and especially women of color. They need to expose their female talent to stretch opportunities that broaden both their skills and their visibility.
  • Chief learning officers and HR professionals must work to foster systems and procedures that help level the playing field. For example, they can help ensure that women get the same kind of feedback as men — not the “soft feedback” currently so prevalent and relatively useless for career advancement.
  • Senior leaders must be willing to enact change at all levels in response to the current needs and requirements of their workforce, especially their female talent. Yesterday’s paradigms are often today’s problems.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

While these strategies are key; they alone won’t attract and retain female talent. Peter Drucker, the iconic management guru, has a famous quote which has always resonated with me: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Drucker’s assessment is especially meaningful in today’s environment where more and more employees, especially women, are looking to corporate culture as a reason to join an organization, or to stay with it.

A recent blog on TAB described the difference between strategy and culture this way: “While strategy defines direction and focus, culture is the habitat in which strategy lives or dies. Strategy focuses on resourcefulness and skillfulness, while culture defines engagement, passion and execution.”

Strategies work best when buoyed by a corporate culture that fosters passionate buy-in at all levels to implement change and seek out improvements. An effective corporate culture keeps strategies relevant and meaningful by regularly assessing the effectiveness of current policies and procedures in light of the current environment.

Additionally, successful corporate culture brings with it a willingness to move beyond a one-size-fits all mentality. Flexibility in pathways to career advancement, flexibility in looking at the needs and requirements of a continually more diverse workforce, flexibility in work hours better positions an organization to attract and retain female talent.

In my previous article, I underscored the importance of scaffolding — creating a multi-layer, multi-level structure that buttresses the organization and supports change and progress. It applies everywhere and to everyone. It is the underpinning for bringing together strategy and culture to attract, retain and develop female talent from the minute they walk in the door. It helps ensure no one’s breakfast gets eaten.

This article originally appeared on the Chief Learning Officer on March 23,2023.

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