5 Proven Ways to Attract & Retain Women Leaders

5 Proven Ways to Attract & Retain Women Leaders

If developing, retaining, and promoting female talent is a priority in your company, what are you doing to get results?

The HR function may have set up formal policies or processes aimed at attracting and supporting women. Maybe diversity training or gender-specific hiring and promoting goals are in the mix.

Flexible working conditions and norms that recognize family and personal roles are great for all employees, but especially helpful for single parents and for women who are typically responsible for more caregiving activities than men.

But formal policies are just one piece of what’s needed to prepare and encourage female employees to take on leadership roles.

Attract and Retain Women Leaders With These 5 Keys to Success

The culture of an organization or a department — or the views of a single manager — can have a direct impact on whether women stay with an organization or leave for something better.

The informal patterns of influence and unspoken performance expectations play a role. And, of course, a woman’s individual experiences and perspectives are powerful factors, too.

To attract, develop, retain, and promote talented women, organizations should take a broad view. Here are 5 proven things to consider, as we note in our white paper:

1. Address women’s leadership challenges and needed competencies. Ensure female leaders have the experiences and the resources to learn what they need most.

This could include giving guidance for on-the-job learning, as well as coaching, mentoring, and workshops or programs.

But it’s important that the organization — and individuals — are clear on the perspectives, skills, and capabilities that are needed to be effective in various leadership roles.

We conducted research with 337 HR leaders and line managers, and as noted in our white paper, we found:

  • The top 4 leadership challenges for women are establishing credibility, managing up and across the organization, negotiating adeptly, and influencing others.
  • The 2 most important competencies to start developing are managing organizational complexity and strategic thinking and acting.

2. Leverage the power of choosing. Women need to be intentional about their careers and development as leaders.

The power to choose is sometimes overlooked by women. Encourage female leaders in the organization to:

  • Exert greater influence over the choices they make.
  • Take the lead in shaping conversations about their career.
  • Take greater ownership over their career choices.
  • Create a personal leadership development strategy.

It’s all part of living with intention, both at work and at home.

3. Rethink systems and challenge assumptions. Look for ways that unconscious bias in the organization affects opportunities and motivation for women. Make increasing gender equity in the workplace a priority.

Scheduling, opportunities for networking and mentoring, social norms, and talent management processes are some potential areas for rethinking and improvement.

Managers should ask, rather than assume, they know what women in the workplace want from work (this is also a good idea with all employees), and organizations should create the culture and systems that make it easier to have those conversations.

4. Consider a women-only leadership development experience. A female-only program or initiative doesn’t reflect the everyday world of work — and that’s a good thing.

Novel contexts can shed light on experiences and provide new ways to think about future possibilities. Plus, a women-only context allows shared experiences to inform the content and support the conversation.

5. Create the right networks. The right relationships and ties are an asset in getting access to information, earning promotions, and gaining opportunities.

Effective leaders rely on key networks and trusted partners to influence others and to get results.

Many women struggle with networking, believing it’s insincere, manipulative, or political — or simply not a natural part of who they are. (If that’s you, check out our leadership networking tips for women.) But the networks that come easily are not necessarily the most beneficial.

Women need a network of champions, including mentors, sponsors, and coaches. This can help women leaders gain a clear understanding of the network they have, compared to the network they need. New relationships and new connections can be built with both the short- and long-term in mind.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

If your organization is focused on how to attract and retain talented women leaders, partner with us for women’s leadership development.


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August 15, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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