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Lost leaders: Does your talent pipeline need nurturing?

Monday, July 8, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Joan Toth

Women — as customers, employees and leaders — are increasingly critical to your organization’s success. Yet the full potential of women’s leadership remains unrealized in the very companies that spend millions trying to influence their spending.

Despite the proven benefits of women’s leadership, too few companies in the grocery industry are investing in women and advancing them to key decision-making roles. They’re not providing the career-development and mentoring opportunities that would help women climb the ladder. Most important, they are failing to foster the kind of personal "sponsorship” that allows so many men to ascend to the corner suite.

While most companies have become good at recruiting a "fair share” of women, exclusion from informal networks, a lack of role models and not having a sponsor to create opportunities continue to hinder the careers of women, according to a report by McKinsey & Co.

Outdated beliefs, deep in the corporate culture, may be the single greatest force holding women back, according to Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee, authors of the McKinsey study. Both male and female managers often take a woman out of the running for promotions because they assume she can’t handle both work and family obligations. Diversity officers and experts reported that women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on their performance, while men tend to be promoted on their potential. While corporate leaders may be acting with good intentions — not wanting women to fail in a new role — the mindset keeps women from advancing.

The harsh truth is this: No company’s gender diversity initiative or work-life program can overcome these entrenched views and behaviors.

Start in the middle

There are proven ways to nurture female talent and place more women on the road to executive positions. Barsh and Yee found women’s interest in leadership increases as they move from entry-level to middle-management roles, but they also learned as women get older, their desire to advance in their organizations is more likely to fade. Companies that focus their development strategies and programs on middle management and increase the number of women at the vice president level, greatly improve the odds of women making it to the c-suite.

After surveying more than 400 female middle managers and 200 human resource managers in the United Kingdom, Alexander Mann Solutions offered six recommendations for expanding the talent pipeline. They include: Focus on the business case for gender diversity to push it higher up the corporate agenda; align human resource leaders’ perceptions with women’s career ambitions; include female middle managers in succession planning; extend flexible work options to allow more women to accept promotion higher positions; and encourage women to make more responsibility for their own careers.

Women’s actions — or lack of action — can be part of the problem. Fewer women than men ask for more responsibility in their organizations and take control. Too often women limit themselves, simply waiting to be asked to participate in leadership training programs, take on a new role or get promoted to leadership.

Alexander Mann Solutions’ sixth recommendation addresses this challenge head on: Companies should help reshape the relationships between mid-level female managers and women in senior roles. Many human resource leaders, the researchers found, overestimate the contributions made by senior women as role models. If women leaders are perceived as unrepresentative in terms of their personal style or work-life issues, female middle managers will not identify and engage with them.

Finally, I’ll add my own recommendation: Like any other effort, strategies for advancing women need to be assessed and results measured. Nothing measured, nothing gained — for women or their companies.

Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women. This article first appeared in Progressive Grocer.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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