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Strategies for the next generation of female executives

Thank you, Korn Ferry for this insightful female CEO profiling report,  ‘Women CEO’s Speak. Strategies for the next generation of female executives and how companies can pave the road.’ There is so much in here that organisations can take away and action.  It strongly reflects our own experience of working with organisations and senior women on the cusp of executive positions.  In short, these are our top ‘do more’, ‘do less’ recommendations for organisations seeking to inspire, retain and develop top female talent.

Do more:

  • Tell your female talent they are CEO/ executive material: 65% of the female CEO’s interviewed didn’t realise they could take the top job until a manager told them they had potential. If nothing else – do this.

  • Lead on purpose: It matters to women whether their work has a bigger purpose, and whether people are treated well in the organisation. Companies who create cultures with strong purpose (or ‘just causes’ as Simon Sinek says) and really live them, attract and retain top female talent.

  • Make work/ life balance integral not a nice to have: Purpose led people need rich balanced lives. Yes, all these women CEO’s are ambitious, LOVE challenge, have high resilience and commitment AND they call out work/ life balance as part of a healthy working environment.  In short, this is not only about having the right flexible working policy, more importantly it is about having the right culture so that people feel comfortable working flexibly.

  • Recognise men and women have different experiences – mentor, coach and sponsor accordingly: Korn Ferry draw out the mentor to sponsor path that supports success, which in our experience is best done when held in a strong coaching approach.  Korn Ferry’s research also shows that pivotal leadership experiences start in childhood for female CEO’s. This hints at something we have found key in women’s coaching, namely that ‘getting the corner office’ is not just about refining a leadership style, it is about discovering your core drivers and authentic leadership expression, and for women that intrinsically means working with their different experience in the world and workplace because of being a woman.  Our specialised coaching approach works with this difference positively as an asset, encouraging the future female CEOs and executives to stand in their difference and bring their whole self, (and value) to the table.

 

Do less:

  • Stop asking women to adapt, instead value and recognise their difference:  The Female CEO profiles show that, like their male counterparts, they are strong in the key qualities that make CEO’s, AND they bring the value of difference – specifically more humility, greater entrepreneurial perspectives and willingness to challenge the status quo. This corroborates our own experience and the considerable research in this area.  Indeed, many organisations penalise their female talent for having these qualities, perceiving them as weaknesses or ‘not getting’ the way business operates. Rather than realising that there is a new perspective in the room that could be the source of your greatest innovation.

  • Stop asking women to ‘speak up’: Technically this is a part of our first point, however, it comes up so often and is such a barrier to organisations hearing, valuing and progressing their women, that it is important to reiterate. What we hear from organisations and women is ‘people don’t listen to me’ ‘my style of communication is not recognised’.  The difference in communication style between men and women, often leads to women being mislabelled as having a lack of ‘confidence’ and a lack of ‘presence’. Whereas what we see from the CEO’s in the survey is that their confidence level is at the ‘mean’ score, however they are placed significantly higher in humility, balance and independent thought. In practice this leads to different leadership behaviours and styles being brought to the fore, such as deeper listening, asking more questions, rather than being the prominent voice in the room.

  • ‘Disrupt Unconscious Bias’, not just a training course: At WDI Consulting we like Korn Ferry’s reframe of this, because what does not work is ticking the box on unconscious bias training. Without follow up and integration into the culture, research has shown unconscious bias training’s impact is limited. It is about bringing the principles of openness, welcoming difference, curiosity, tolerance into each work day. And this takes daily ‘micro acts of leadership’ to disrupt unconscious bias at an individual and organisational level, making it a cultural norm to call out inequality/ exclusion/ bias and call in inclusive behaviours.

Footnote:

Korn Ferry’s report also offers suggestions for top female talent based on the success path of female CEO’s.  This article is focused on what organisations can do more or less of, because in our experience, companies often focus on helping women to adapt and change who they are to succeed.  The most successful strategies involve the organisation and women ‘leaning in’, and it is only when organisations really welcome female talent, bringing out and maximising their difference, that everyone benefits and the most value is derived.  Our work in women’s leadership and coaching is about supporting women to bring their whole-self and their unique difference to the fore in their leadership style.

Authors Clare Russell and Lynn White