4 Ways Managers Can Support Women’s Leadership Development
“The zeitgeist is changing,” Sallie Krawcheck wrote last November, “from women working to be successful individually to working to be successful together.”
Recent research on the gender leadership gap confirms the benefits of women supporting women. Both male and female survey respondents were more likely to perceive that they had access into informal leadership development opportunities when they saw that their managers supported their development. However, that manager support was significantly more impactful on female respondents.
So, how exactly should managers show employees — particularly women — that they support their development into effective leaders? Here are some tips.
1. Assign women to special projects or roles.
Research tells us that women (and people of color) are less likely to receive the types of assignments that Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup of the Center for WorkLife Law call “glamour work” — projects that will help them stretch their skills and get them noticed by the people who make decisions about promotions. They’re also less likely to be assigned leadership tasks, such as managing a project or presenting to a client, which would help them develop their leadership skills.
Managers should make a list of past and future projects and whom they’ve assigned them to. Consider whether there is equal representation of men and women, or if glamour projects tend to go to men, while “office housework” goes to women. By identifying female employees whose skills and career goals make them good fits for upcoming projects, managers can create more equitable development opportunities for their team members.
2. Consider training to be part of the job.
A good manager isn’t just a work assigner or an annual reviewer. The best managers are also coaches, sponsors and trainers. (In fact, in addition to the importance of manager support, our research found that coaching can equalize leadership training effectiveness.)
Managers should develop the skills to identify high-potential leadership talent on their teams — male and female — and then nurture that talent. Ways to nurture developing leaders include: helping them develop leadership skills on the job, providing developmental feedback instead of simple statements like “Good work” or “Do this again,” having coaching conversations that explore goals, strengths and weaknesses, and serving as sponsors by mentioning them in leadership meetings.
3. Support time off for development.
Female respondents to our survey were almost three times more likely to report an imbalance between work and life than male respondents. With the great demands on women who work, female employees may be hesitant to take the time required for professional development.
Managers who understand the importance of formal development encourage their employees to take advantage of such opportunities and provide the resources they need to do so, whether it’s paying for attendance at a conference or allowing them to take an hour for a webinar. Good managers also encourage employees to take advantage of any social learning opportunities offered at their organization, such as lunch-and-learns or formal mentoring programs.
4. Set an example of continuous learning.
Managers can also set an example by letting their team members know when they participate in training and development. Showing the importance of leadership development by participating in it themselves — and then following through by demonstrating improved management skills on the job — is a great way for managers to say, “I believe development is important.”
This is especially important for female managers. As role models for the aspiring female leaders who work for them, they can prove the investment their organization makes in women’s leadership development and the results that investment can achieve for both the organization and its female leaders.
The need for gender diversity at all levels of the organization — especially at leadership levels — is no longer in question. What we do need are more effective strategies to close the gender gap once and for all. By making sure their female (and male) employees know they support their development, managers can make real progress toward that goal.