Increasing Women in Leadership Roles

Business people around a conference table listen to a female business leader.
There have been major strides in overall workplace gender equality, but there's been less progress regarding women in leadership positions.

The number of women in executive leadership in organizations pales in comparison to the number of men, as noted by The New York Times. This means that the potential of a vast segment of the population is not being tapped. To change the status quo and increase the diversity and equality of your organizations' senior leadership teams, you should strive to think more creatively.

Begin With Recruiting

According to Training Magazine, making serious inroads into placing more women in leadership positions begins with recruiting. However, this recruiting needs to occur from institutions and locations that are beyond the typical HR targets of area such as the top 50 or Ivy League colleges for new graduates and LinkedIn or Indeed job postings or internal referrals for mid-to-late career openings. To increase the female base, HR leaders should widen the net to include womens' colleges and historically black colleges and universities as well as organizations that emphasize the leadership and promotion of women. Beyond the college level, HR needs to connect with women advocacy and networking groups.

HR leaders can also identify candidates who are likely to excel at their organization by looking beyond bland position descriptions and working with hiring managers to understand the true skill set needed. Then, HR can integrate questions into the recruiting process that address this desired skill set, which may not be strictly evident from a resume. For example, asking a specific scenario-based question as part of the application can help determine if a candidate is a go-getter much more effectively than scanning the resume, particularly for those candidates using the typical results-oriented resume format. Thus, HR leaders can identify and bring in women who are more likely to excel in their specific environment.

Continue With Hiring and Development

According to Training, men have a 30 percent greater likelihood of being promoted into leadership from entry-level positions than women do. Therefore, organizations need to seriously consider women for positions and place opportunities in front of them that challenge them and make them more promotable. Furthermore, male-dominated environments, nonexistent or ineffectual feedback and isolation are reasons that women may leave technical professions. Another reason is the lack of sponsors, or someone at a higher level who advocates for them. Therefore, HR leaders can put programs in place to provide formal or informal mentoring by other management, including males, to help women prepare for promotions and leadership roles. Offering training, coaching, and career development opportunities can help women move into higher management roles and then they can mentor others to follow.

Increased Visibility

Development does not always have to occur internally. If an organization does not have challenging projects, promotion opportunities or interesting lateral moves readily available, external opportunities always exist. HR leaders can help female employees and their managers identify volunteer, public speaking or association participation opportunities that can aid tremendously in the employees' professional development. At higher levels, there may be nonprofit or industry association board participation options. Professional organizations are also another source of mentors. In addition, many of these alternatives can help raise the internal and external visibility of employees, which increases their likelihood of being considered by management for interesting assignments.

For organizations that are truly committed to making serious inroads into increasing equality for women in leadership, HR leaders are uniquely positioned to have a strong impact. By broadening the sources of the candidate pool then supporting them with mentoring and challenging work, internally and externally, HR leaders and their teams can noticeably increase their senior leadership's team diversity over the next several years.

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