Developing Female Leaders: The Key is Showcasing Diversity in Leadership

In pursuit of gender diversity, it’s not enough for an organization to focus only on hiring practices to attract women.

Far more impactful for the long-term — including future recruitment — is retention and development of female leaders.

This two-fold approach brings together diversity, attracting a broad pool of candidates from which to hire, and inclusion, with management practices and environmental influences that support the engagement and development of all employees, including women.

Showcasing diversity in action

Hiring and recruiting practices must reflect a sincere organizational belief that diversity in all forms is a good business practice, because it brings together a mosaic of thought and culture and creates a critical mass of the best and brightest. More than ever, companies see diversity as a way to connect with a diverse and global customer base, reflecting an array of tastes, needs, and expectations.

One of the most effective ways to increase recruitment of women (as well as under-represented minorities) is to showcase diversity in leadership.

In other words, if organizations want to attract, hire, and retain more female talent, then they must engage and showcase their female leaders. The objective is to demonstrate success to the pool that the organization is trying to attract.

Moreover, these women executives have access through their professional and personal networks to other talented individuals who can become candidates for recruitment.

Data shows a lack of women at the top

Consider the example of a professional group for women in the technology industry, which sponsored “meet the company events” to allow the head of HR or the head of recruiting to address interested candidates. When such networking/recruiting opportunities also included women leaders (whether in HR or another function), it sent a strong message to promising female talent.

Of course, in order to engage women executives in recruiting and hiring, they must exist within an organization. If there is a dearth of female leadership, that is a serious red flag about the current state of gender diversity within an organization.

123RF Stock Photo
123RF Stock Photo

Workforce data show a lack of women at the top. Among Fortune 500 companies, only 4.2 percent of CEOs are women. The Korn/Ferry CHRO database shows that 58 percent of chief human resources officers (CHROs) are male.

One way to open more opportunities for future women leaders is to make organizational changes, such as increasing flexibility in how work is accomplished (appealing to both women and men).

Some organizations have been known to tie manager bonuses to their success in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

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Unintended consequences

At the same time, companies need to address attitudes (spoken and unspoken), culture, behaviors, and practices that could unintentionally deter hiring and retaining female talent. A simple example is in recruitment criteria and language, ensuring that it does not inadvertently discourage female applicants; for example, using the gender-neutral term “results-oriented” instead of a male-oriented word “aggressive” when advertising job specifications.

There may also be policies that have resulted in unintended consequences of limiting opportunities for women.

For example, one company required international experience for promotion into the leadership ranks, but these assignments were given to people in their 30s — a time in life when many women start their families. To attract as many promising young executives as possible, the company began offering international assignments to high potentials in their mid- and upper-20s.

This is a concrete example of an organization’s commitment to adapt to the needs of its workforce in order to promote gender diversity through the ranks, all the way to the upper echelon of leadership.

Becoming an HR leader

A perfect example is the HR leader; to become a CHRO, an ideal candidate needs to interface with the board of directors, to manage the relationship between the board and the CEO, and to deal with intense pressures of aligning talent and business strategies (often globally), while working largely behind the scenes. Acquiring this expertise does not happen overnight, but rather is the result of purposeful career-long development.

At the same time, women must do their part to avail themselves to such development opportunities. Their own willingness to be flexible and adaptable can go a long way toward helping women create and seize opportunities for development and advancement.

As these women achieve success in their own careers and rise through the ranks, they become the role models and recruitment champions for other talented women. It is an ongoing process that leverages today’s women executives to demonstrate, particularly to the next generation, that success is achievable within a workforce that values diversity.

Organizations that succeed will gain a competitive edge through their pursuit of excellence in the acquisition and development of human capital.


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