Will and commitment by management
All participants agreed that the top level has a big role to play. The company management as a group as well as its representatives individually have to publicly and openly commit to the aim of having more women in leadership. They set the tone. And they have to follow up with concrete and measurable action on a continuous basis, e.g. making constant efforts to employ, promote and retain women in these positions.
It was mentioned that often management may say it wants more women, but then delegates the task to the Human Resources Department. However, getting WIT&D into leadership positions is not a recruiting issue. It is much more a cultural change. Because it means that the company must be prepared for different sorts of promotion tracks and leadership styles.
Giving out the message by top level but then not following up, can have a counterproductive effect. Women see that it was only a lip service and will feel discouraged to stay in the company.
A new definition of leadership
Participants agreed that in many companies the traditional image of a leader prevails: He is extroverted, can talk with confidence in any situation, always knows the answers, can easily direct people what to do and takes decisions.
This sort of leadership image should be questioned by companies that want to raise WIT&D into leadership positions. The traditional equation: confidence = competence prevents many women from rising. Because many of the WIT&D do not fit with this traditional image (besides: many men either). Women tend to prefer finding solutions with a whole team. And, while they do take decisions when it is necessary, they first want to listen to different perspectives. This behavior often is interpreted as insecurity. When in fact it is about making sure that data gets collected before taking an informed decision. Also, women may ask about colleagues' feelings with regards to a decision. This is not «esoteric». Rather they may sense a feeling that hides a true risk for the product or project.
So, how to get out of the traditional image of leadership? The participants recommend that a company needs to find its own and explicit definition of leadership. This must be done consciously by the company and communicated as such.
Female potential needs committed support
When women do not behave according to female stereotypes, but for example take a decision without asking anyone else, they get immediate push back. Because we all, be it women or men, do not like (and this happens unconsciously) seeing people behaving outside of the drawers we put them in.
Our minds normally do not put women into leadership positions. Therefore, when a woman does behave leadership-like, she gets quite many hurdles in her way. Often also negative and unfair feedback.
This means: If a company wants to raise WIT&D into leadership positions, it must make extra efforts. It has to be given particular focus and energy.
First, a company has to clearly and continuously send the message to the women that they are needed in leadership positions, publicly and individually. One time will not be sufficient. But if heard several times and over several months/years, it may start to seem credible. While this is a must, it is not sufficient.
Second, a company also must be at the constant lookout of female potential. Because often women do not pronounce themselves. And even if asked they still do not propose themselves. Remember: For a woman it is socially risky to take on a leadership position or behavior, because she exits the drawer.
Participants agreed that it is the colleagues' and/or the superior's task to look for potential and if they see it, to push and support the women to grow into such positions. To push and support, to push and support. Because: Push backs and funny reactions will happen. So, if a company wants to make sure that the new female leader feels confident in her new position, they must support her strongly and publicly against these push backs.
A riddle to be solved
Naturally there are many more ways to solve the riddle. But these three are a good start for any company that is serious about raising WIT&D into leadership positions.
We, from witty works, are happy to help you with this endeavor. Check our Service on "Raise Women Into Leadership".