HR Pipeline: What Message Are You Sending to Female Employees?

Women are eager to lead. The question is, are you boosting or stalling their efforts?

Many organizational leaders are familiar with studies showing that having women in top management positions correlates with financial success and organizational effectiveness (including 7 years of studies by McKinsey & Company). And some organizations are already making it a priority to retain and develop female managers.

Even so, studies consistently show a leaky talent pipeline. In the U.S., for example, the odds of advancement for men are about double the odds for women.

What holds women back? What can be done to support and prepare them? And how can companies retain talented women leaders and step up to the challenge of balancing out their leadership pool?

Have You Asked What She Wants?

Women are motivated to move up.

A McKinsey survey found that 79% of entry-level women and 83% of middle-management women desire to move to the next level at work. And 75% aspire to top management roles, including the C-suite — on par with their male counterparts.

But women are often overlooked.

Though women currently make up more than half of the U.S. workforce, only 18% are top leaders. The majority of female employees are concentrated in entry-level and middle-management positions, with a rate of advancement into senior levels that has slowed to a crawl in recent years.

There’s no single factor to explain the gap between women’s widespread interest in moving into more senior roles and how few make it there.

Sometimes, it’s just that no one is asking. Women may assume they’ll be noticed for their good work, and hiring managers may assume a lack of interest.

“A major financial services firm we work with realized that women were left off lists for promotion based on assumptions: She has small children, she won’t travel, she’s not looking to make a move,” says CCL’s Laura Santana. “When the HR director stepped up to say: ‘Have you asked her?— the conversation changed.”

Think about how you’re making it easier for women to have those “ask” conversations in your organization, and how you can support and retain talented women leaders to reach their goals and potential.

Taking the Next Step to Retain Talented Women

Our Women’s Leadership Experience (WLE) program can be part of the solution. In fact, our recent survey of HR leaders found that 43% planned to send employees to an all-female development program.

WLE is designed for experienced managers who are eager to steer their careers and learn new ways to approach their personal leadership dilemmas. The program is rooted in an understanding that women face barriers to leadership that their male counterparts do not. Some of those barriers are organizational, systemic, or cultural; others are roadblocks women have unintentionally placed in their own path.

Rather than a one-off, inspirational event that quickly fades, WLE is a multi-phase experience. It includes 2 face-to-face sessions with peers, specialized facilitators, and coaches, as well as time in between to work on challenges and goals, engage with coaches, and reinforce key concepts. The experience also:

  • Draws on current research and understanding of the context of women’s development and leadership identity.
  • Combines universal themes with recognition of regional, local, and personal differences.
  • Integrates the best knowledge of learning transfer, which elevates the chance of success.
  • Focuses on the individual while addressing desired organizational impact.

WLE helps each woman gain greater clarity on her identity as a leader. She then focuses on the behaviors that support her leadership brand, career direction, and organizational goals — and finds new perspective and energy to tackle her challenges and become the leader she intends to be.

To retain talented women in your organization, explore our resources on mentoring & sponsoring women, including:

Access our free resources on mentoring and sponsoring women.

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