According to a McKinsey study, 79% of entry-level women and 83% of middle-management women desire to move to the next level in their workplace. 75% of women aspire to become a part of the C Suite – numbers that prove that ambition is not gender defined.
However, even today, only 4.6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are female!
We are finally moving away from ‘second-generation gender bias’, a set of assumptions that appear neutral but reflect prejudiced values in the traditional perception of leadership. To get women to the top, organizations have to focus on developing a few critical leadership skills of their high-potential women leaders.
Here is a small list.
Credibility is a core skill of all successful leaders and has to be a key focus area of all leadership development initiatives. This is the same for high-potential women employees as well. Trust goes hand in hand with credibility and, hence, it is not something that can happen overnight. Credible leaders are a dependable source of information and expertise. It also makes them good decision-makers. Such leaders also rank highly on the accountability matrix and take full responsibility for their actions and decisions.
Negotiation and Influencing
Our social conditioning through the decades has made it harder for women to claim authority, which often impedes their negotiation success rates. Women are taught from the onset that by negotiating, they are taking something away from a person. This feels like a violation of the social contract they are born with.
Yet, negotiating skills and the capability to influence others greatly determine the success rate of an individual. Building key behaviors such as asking for what they need without feeling stressed or uncomfortable, building negotiation style, developing strategies to leverage past successes for future negotiations, and identifying and overcoming the barriers of negotiation success are essential.
Managing Up & Across the Organization
Those working their way up the leadership ladder have to hone their skills to manage teams across the organizations. For this, it is imperative to develop the capabilities to lead cross-functional teams and manage the hierarchies at play.
It also means developing the skills to manage complex relationships. Having strong communication skills and having an understanding of the language that is most effective for peers, subordinates, and high-ups become critical metrics for leadership success.
Managing Organizational Complexities and Strategic Thinking
Given the volatile and dynamic market conditions, high-potential women employees, much like their male counterparts, have to work towards honing their strategic thinking skills. To do so, it is important to first gain a deep understanding of the organizational complexities at hand, the challenges the organization faces, the areas of improvement, and what the organization is doing right in relation to the market dynamics. All these things help in getting the contextual understanding of decision impact.
Organizations have to groom their women leaders to improve their capability to ‘see around the corner’. This means they have to develop the capability to anticipate market shifts with customers, regulations, policies, and competitors by understanding which information to keep and which ones to ignore.
Behavior, Feedback, and Leadership Perception
Learning is an essential and unending part of the leadership journey. Determining the effectiveness of the leadership style, thus becomes important. And for this, it is important to be open to feedback and develop strong capabilities to self-evaluate and develop the right set of behaviors and attitudes that support the personal leadership brand, and consequently, the career direction.
Build Strategic Networks for Authentic Engagement
Organizations have to assist women employees in mastering dominant codes that nurture ambition. This includes building awareness of self-imposed limitations and the crucial importance of networking.
High-potential women employees have to be more focused on building strategic networks to create opportunities for broader professional exposure while raising their profile, having more meaningful interactions, and building more authentic engagement.
Identify and Implement a Personal Leadership Strategy
Should you ‘Lean in’ or ‘Lean out’? Should your leadership style be authoritative and/or assertive? Do women have to be louder to be a leader? Do leaders always have to be extroverts? Clearly, there are many leadership styles to choose from. But which one is the most ‘effective’ leadership style?
Organizations have to now take a step forward and help their high-potential women employees realize their own leadership strengths, simply because leadership does not come in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ format. To develop effective women leaders, organizations must help them understand different leadership styles and then enable them to confidently embrace the one that suits their personality, situation, and organizational culture.
The last few years have been standout years for women in the corporate world. While there are cracks that are appearing in the proverbial glass ceiling, it is yet to be shattered. The onus of furthering the cause of women does not rest with the women workforce alone. It rests with organizations as well. Having recognized the value that women bring to organizations, organizations should leverage coaching and mentoring programs to help their women employees move ahead in leadership roles by bridging the gaps that impede their growth in a male-centric environment.
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