1 February, 2017
By Ankur Dhanuka & Vivek Sharma
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook & author of a landmark manifesto on Women empowerment “Lean In” ends her popular TED talk on an evocative note, by dreaming of a world where half of the nations & half of the organizations will be led by Women leaders.
The reality, however, is not so encouraging. Consider this, as per a 2006 report1, women comprise only 2% of the CEOs and 8% of the top earners at Fortune 500 companies. Though there have been great strides in women moving in & up the corporate hierarchy since then. However at today’s pace it will take 25 years for gender parity at Senior VP levels and one hundred years at the C-suite, as per as a 2015 report2.
The world where there are more women at senior leadership levels helming business divisions and organizations will definitely be a gentler kinder world, however it won’t come into being by default. It needs a nudge to come into being.
Many progressive organizations today are taking initiatives in the field of women empowerment & creating the right policies & incentives to ease & propel the forward movement of deserving women in the leadership pipeline.
Furthermore, some organizations are coming forward and initiating learning interventions which can empower women to be more effective and move up the corporate hierarchy. Mentoring and coaching programs, woman leadership programs, emotional intelligence, etc. are some of targeted learning initiatives which build specific mindsets and competencies, among identified women managers, are being taken. However, insufficient focus and attention is being paid to this dimension.
Now a question arises whether learning & development initiatives
should be taken specifically for Women leaders? Why not club these initiatives with general L&D interventions? Is there anything diametrically different in the male & female leadership development construct?
It turns out that there are many valid reasons for such targeted initiatives. One of the first reasons is the power of cohort. Once identified, middle level managers are put together in a group which is a forum where common issues & challenges can be identified & solutions brain-stormed. Senior women leaders can role-model and share their personal stories of challenges and triumph, to inspire & motivate these groups. The resultant camaraderie & bonding are reasons enough for such initiatives.
However, it turns out that there are gender differences in terms of certain expected leadership behaviors which can be enhanced through
women specific workshops and coaching interventions.
For example, there is ample research3 that women as a group consistently under-rate & under-represent their contribution to the success of an endeavor compared to men. This has obvious ramifications for women being identified for top projects and future promotions.
Similarly, women as a group are more reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing that good job performance will naturally lead to rewards, Carol Frolinger and Deborah Kolb, founders of Women Negotiating Inc., call it the “Tiara Syndrome”.4
Also women as a group are at a disadvantage while negotiating for higher compensation, benefits, titles, and other perks. There is little downside for men when they negotiate for themselves, but since women are expected to be concerned for others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavourably.5
Targeted L&D interventions for women leaders need to address the above mentioned underlying issues and empower them to choose growth on their own terms, offer their greatest contribution s and earn their deserved rewards.
1. Press release, Catalyst, Rate of Women's Advancement to Top Corporate Officer Positions Slow, New Catalyst Anniversary Census Reveals (July 2006).
2. Mckinsey report, Women in the workplace, 2015.
3. For studies on how women estimate their abilities in front of others, see Laurie Heatherington, Laura S. Townsend and David P. Burroughs “Two investigations of “Female Modesty in Achievement Situations”
4. Hannah Seligson, “Ladies, Take off Your Tiara” The Huffington Post, Feb 20, 2007.
5. Emily T. Amanatullah and Michael W. Morris, “Negotiating Gender Roles: Gender differences in Assertive Negotiating are mediated by women’s fear of Backlash” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010)