In the last few months there has been a lot in the news about women and leadership. I’m really happy this subject is starting to get more of the attention it deserves. One recent online article by Will Marre, Three Reasons We Need Women Leaders Now, especially captured my attention.
Marre points out that according to a research study, women surpass men in 15 out of 16 top leadership competencies. These competencies include: initiative, integrity, team building, teamwork, problem solving, innovation, communication, and technical and professional expertise. Only in one competency did men out-score women: “develops strategic perspective.”
And here lies the “chicken and egg” dilemma.
Marre points out that according to the September 13th issue of the Harvard Business Review, larger corporations tend to offer men projects with larger staffs and larger budgets. Women also tend to be seriously under-represented in “positions with profit and loss responsibility.” All of these areas require a strategic perspective and are stepping stones to positions that require even more.
So to summarize the dilemma: In 15 out of 16 areas, women are superior leaders. Yet, the one area in which they fall somewhat behind is the one that continues to be underdeveloped and that significantly sabotages their rise to upper management. Despite their many superior leadership skills, the lack of a strategic business perspective prevents women from integrating those skills into a strategy that will propel them into key corporate roles.
What to Do?
We at WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. have been working for almost 20 years to help women navigate their way out of this problem. It’s no surprise to us that women are so good at so many things. If they weren’t, the over 160 Fortune 500 companies who work with us, would not continue to send their talented women to our programs. We have a 96% repeat rate from the world’s most savvy businesses. Like us and like Marre, these corporations know the talent is there—the talent to lead and succeed in the years ahead.
How can women and the organizations who need their outstanding leadership capabilities, hone strategic skills? Let me give you a few examples from our WOMEN Unlimited “play list:”
- Change starts with the women themselves. They must understand that developing a strategic perspective requires a shift in their attitudes and behavior. As Marre puts it, they must focus more on the “what” and the “why” and less on the “how.” Both in our programs and on-the-job, WOMEN Unlimited helps women make these shifts.
- Networks and mentors are crucial resources for women in their development as leaders and in advancing their careers. Networks and mentors help talented women understand how to act strategically by pointing them to the factors at play—both within themselves and within their organizations. In addition, mentors are invaluable allies and realistic sounding boards, providing effective feedback on career-limiting behaviors and skills. Effectively developing and using networks and mentors are key components in all our programs.
- When women are in a safe environment, they can learn to role-play and to get past potential career barriers. As they gain confidence and expertise, they become more likely and more willing to take on the high-visibility projects that will hone their strategic perspectives. At WOMEN Unlimited, we provide exactly that environment.
- Research has shown that organizations with women in senior leadership roles are more profitable and innovative. Such success can be achieved when corporate strategies to advance women are coupled with development practices that support women’s understanding of what they need to do to become effective senior leaders. Our approach involves all levels of the organization in this change and growth process.
In short, neither talented women, nor their organizations, can afford to stand back and let the proven leadership talents women possess fall by the wayside. As that old saying goes:
“If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.