Women leaders often fight an uphill battle in male-dominated industries. While gender equality has been a strong focus in the workplace, there are still barriers for females.
Marcie Mueller, a board certified coach and leadership development practice leader at IMPACT Group, is passionate about breaking down these barriers and equipping women to accelerate their careers — no matter their industry.
” A Catalyst report of S&P 500 companies shows that women comprise 45 percent of the total workforce, yet less than 25 percent of women are in board or C-suite roles,” says Mueller. “Some women aren’t finding leadership opportunities in their field, and many aren’t stepping up to ask for those roles.”
Mueller’s 20 years of experience implementing talent and leadership development programs has solidified her belief that offering training isn’t enough — companies must commit to developing their talent.
“You see the best results when participants are actively involved in setting their professional development goals,” she said. “There are specific things organizations can do to engage women in this process and provide the right opportunities for them to develop in their careers.”
Here are three ways Mueller empowers women to rise up the corporate ladder.
1. Implement Ways for Women to Gain Corporate Exposure
Harvey Coleman, author of “Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed,” conducted a great deal of research to determine what drives career success. He believes that exposure makes up 60 percent of an individual’s success. This implies that who knows you and trusts you determines if you are selected for new opportunities and advancement in your company.
“Corporate visibility — having a brand and building a broad network at the office — is vital for leaders. This is also a potential challenge for women,” said Mueller. “Women tend to focus solely on high performance and overlook the importance of a network.”
Focus development opportunities on ways women can gain visibility and exposure within their departments and the organization as a whole. Participants in the Women in Leadership program Mueller developed at IMPACT Group complete a one-on-one with an executive at a Senior Vice President level or higher at their company.
“When the women speak with leaders one-on-one, they find it is much easier to talk about their work, their strengths, and their ideas rather than in situations where they are outnumbered,” Mueller said. “The executives have also gained a lot from it. Most of them are unaware of the great talent they have at their company because they simply don’t have opportunities to interact with them.”
Women need to know that building a strong brand and cultivating an internal network is not bragging – it helps others realize the value they bring to their company each and every day. The more exposure women gain to leaders and decision makers in the office, the more potential they have to be selected for new opportunities in the future.
2. Encourage women to speak up
“Women in organizations where their gender is underrepresented often find themselves the only female in meetings,” says Mueller. “Being heard and having their ideas accepted can be a challenge for them in this kind of setting.”
Training programs should focus on building the confidence and assertiveness of women so they feel comfortable sharing ideas in meetings, brainstorming sessions, and team discussions. Discuss communication styles so women are aware of their approach and tone. This is also a great way for women to realize when they use disclaimers during conversations, especially the word “but.”
“You hear women start sentences with things like, ‘I may not be the expert on this, but…’, or ‘Keith may know more about this than I do, but…’ We use disclaimers because we want to be liked, we don’t want to talk over someone, or we’re not comfortable taking all the credit,” said Mueller.
3. Use projects to build leadership capabilities
Rising female leaders find projects are key. “Our Women in Leadership program typically includes a capstone activity so the participants not only deliver immediate value to their company, but also put the skills they’ve learned into practice,” Mueller said.
Even small-scale projects make a difference as they do more than just build skills – they also promote visibility.
Women should actively seek out cross-functional committees, projects, and stretch assignments to enhance their project and people management skills. “I tell my clients not to wait for a promotion into leadership,” Mueller said. “Be a leader and find leadership opportunities on an ongoing basis.”
Research illustrates that having women in leadership roles leads to better overall business performance, proving that an organization’s investment in their talent is well worth it. If companies put these three key accelerators to work, they’ll quickly see the positive impact.
Women bring different experiences, perspectives and competencies to leadership roles. Providing targeted leadership programs for women is not just a diversity initiative — it is a business imperative.