Traditional workplaces have been slow to accommodate women. As a result, record numbers of women are leaving the labor force, a trend that is detrimental to women and organizations. It is possible, with the right programs, policies, and organizational cultures, to not only retain high-potential women, but to develop them to be organizational leaders.
Cheryl Carleton, an assistant professor of economics at Villanova University, proposes five ways to advance women as leaders in organizations:
- Ensure accountability. Managers should be held accountable for the amount of diversity on their teams by tying their salaries and performance evaluations to diversity levels.
- Measure and reward invisible work. Women often play supportive, collaborative roles in organizations. These are important, but often overlooked attributes. Employers should make sure people are recognized for the valuable but often invisible work they do. If this work is never acknowledged, employees—mostly women—in these roles will never be promoted.
- Rethink scheduling. Offer the flexibility men and women want.
- Address culture. All the policies and programs are wasted if the organizational culture discourages their use.
- Be an example. Women are often leery of taking advantage of maternity and flexible leave because they fear being labeled as “Mommy.” Senior leaders must set the example and participate in leave programs (Carleton, 2013).
More companies are also fostering women leaders by assigning sponsors to high-potential women. Sponsors can actively champion women and move them up the career ladder. HR and talent management professionals can also monitor retention and promotion rates for female and male employees and report on the use of flexible programs and other family-friendly policies. This increased transparency is important not only in terms of accountability, but also in signaling to all employees the importance of retention, promotion, and flexibility in the company’s culture.