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Developing Female Leadership in the Workplace

Dec 15, 2016

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Tracy Willits

An Iowa native and Iowa State graduate, Tracy Willits is a corporate communications veteran, having held positions in healthcare, publishing and agriculture. She passionately pursues clarity in the written and spoken word, is in awe of the power of social media, and appreciates the opportunities her life has presented.

More than 200 metro-area men and women gathered recently at the first Metro Women Connect (MWC) session to tackle gender equality in the workplace. A panel of three Des Moines area executives addressed the business case of developing female leadership, the importance of gender diversity, and how everyone is responsible for fostering gender equality. While each panelist drew upon his or her unique experiences, they generally agreed that companies have improved gender diversity in the workplace yet acknowledged that there is room for more effort on part of the companies and their employees.

Reflecting on the results of the 2016 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, and incorporating information from the panel, the MWC participants identified four actions they could take back to their workplace to support a more diverse environment and close the gender gap at the senior leadership level.

  1. Measurement and transparency. It may be cliché but it continues to be true – what gets measured, gets done. If you are a senior leader reading this and you work at a company that does not have a diversity and inclusion scorecard, make the case for one. Start with basic, achievable metrics: a) require a diverse talent pools for final round of interviews; b) place high-potential women on projects where they will get the skills needed for the next role/promotion; c) create goals for gender equality at different job levels in your organization. However, none of this effort will make a difference unless companies adopt policies that support diversity and inclusion and let their employees and the outside world know.
  2. Get involved. You really do own your career. If you aren’t getting those assignments to put you on the path for your next promotion, don’t wait to be asked. Raise your hand to lead that next project. Identify a problem or process to solve or improve. Develop a proposal and take it to your boss. Look outside your area of current expertise for a mentor. This will show your initiative to learn about different aspects of the company. Get experience outside your work – get on a non-profit board or volunteer for a committee.  
  3. Give and take the gift of feedback. If you are a supervisor, make sure you are giving constructive feedback equally to your male and female employees. Be aware of unconscious biases impacting how feedback is provided to women. Both genders need to understand their skills to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.  As an employee, actively seek out support and advice from your boss, a mentor, a trusted colleague. Be ready for both positive and negative feedback. Don’t dwell on the negative. Understand it. Commit to minimizing that behavior or changing it, then move on.
  4. Model leadership behavior. This is especially true if you are early in your career. Study what makes certain leaders exceptional. Don’t just look to model leadership behavior based on titles. There are leaders everywhere. Here’s a hint - the best leaders give back and are good at modeling behaviors they expect from their teams. Good leaders are mentors, gather opinions from multiple sources, practice active listening, accept “different-ness, and care. If you are a mentee, think about how you can help your mentor not just how your mentor can help you. This simple action can help you gain insight into what your mentor cares about, and helps you practice the important role of giving back.

For the complete summary of findings of the 2016 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, please go to https://womenintheworkplace.com/

And for more information on how to be a part of Metro Women Connect, please go to:https://www.iwlcleads.org/research/women-connect/.



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