How do we help manage female talent through the pipeline to executive level? Michelle Brailsford and Mary Ann Rettig-Zucchi discuss what strategies need to be implemented.
'The Pipeline to the Top', a study published in the Academy of Management Perspectives, found an acute shortage of female talent in the leadership pipeline of FORTUNE 1000 companies in America. In the UK, the Female FTSE Report 2006 found that only 77 FTSE 100 companies had women directors.
Yet research has revealed that companies with female representation on their boards achieve significantly better financial performance than those with male-dominated boardrooms.
For years, those of us in talent management have known that we need to be strategic about how we manage our talent. High potentials are treated differently than solid performers who lack potential to move upward or laterally. Enthusiastic learners are treated differently than those employees who have disengaged. Why should we be any less strategic when it comes to managing female talent through the leadership pipeline?
In response to consumer research, companies customise products and services to meet the unique needs of women. Doesn't it make good business sense to tailor our learning and career development interventions to meet the needs of the female talent pool?
Charan, Drotter and Noel, authors of 'The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company', outline six passages or stages in the leadership journey, suggesting a sequential process. Yet talented women often do not take this journey in a linear fashion. Organisations would do well to look at creative ways to assess and promote female talent. They also need to support women in adopting the critical skills and values needed at each management transition if they decide to take more traditional career paths.
How can we assess female talent readiness for movement differently?
Organisations are beginning to realise that they must develop models which allow for non-linear movement through the organisation. Perhaps instead of asking, "has this woman held all the requisite roles needed to make the transition into an executive position?", a more appropriate question is, "what activities and experiences has the individual had that would prepare her to transition into an executive position?"
If you were to ask managers where they got the most effective development in their career, the answer is most likely 'on the job'. Too often, those same managers discount what can be learned from practical experiences outside of work. Yet The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) research demonstrates that activities that take place outside of the regular workday contribute to a manager's effectiveness.
Organisations might consider looking at additional data when making talent pool decisions, acknowledging skills developed through roles outside of work including community involvement and family responsibilities.
How can we support women in adapting skills and values for the executive suite?
Just as organisations need to adapt their approach to talent management with women, they can support women in examining and, as necessary, adapting their behaviours, skills and attitudes for executive performance.
Change in time application
A 'be perfect' and 'try harder' driver sometimes means that women find it hard to say 'no'. Skilled at multi-tasking, they often continue to address multiple tactical issues even as they take on strategic challenges. Women in particular may need coaching about how to reallocate their time to include more reflecting and analysing versus 'doing', as they move from being functional managers to managing a business.
Organisations might consider identifying roles at each transition that leverage skills like coaching, supporting individuals, team building and relationship building. Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of the 20-year-old management classic, 'Men and Women of the Corporation', has conducted research which shows that women get high ratings on exactly those skills needed to succeed in the global 'information age', where teamwork and partnering are critical.
An eve-olution survey of women leaders revealed the importance of values. Nearly all respondents (96%) indicated that women are more likely to stay in an organisation whose values are in line with their own. Respondents rated highly the importance of 'doing work that I believe in passionately, that is meaningful and rewarding and is in line with my values'.
Organisations can support women in identifying ways to maintain their integrity and remain true to core personal values even as they need to adapt some work values in order to become a leader – for instance, going from valuing technical work to valuing managerial work and from valuing short-term contribution to valuing long-term success.
How can we customise careers?
Organisations are also realising that just as their businesses need to create gender-inclusive products and marketing strategies to reach their female customers, their business needs to create gender-inclusive career development strategies in order to attract and retain top female talent.
Chief talent officer for Deloitte & Touche USA, Cathy Benko, has replaced career ladders with career lattices. Eschewing rigid career paths, many workers now build customised careers to reflect constantly changing personal lives. With implementation of creative new strategies for managing the female leadership pipeline, greater numbers of organisations will benefit from tapping into the vast reservoir of female talent.
Instead of organisations asking "which career path should this woman take?" a more appropriate question might be "what talent does this female leader possess and how can we design a career for her that will lead to an executive position?"
Research from the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs shows that the old career model — particularly for women — just doesn't work. Hewlett reports that: "Fully 60% of highly qualified women have nonlinear careers. They take off-ramps and scenic routes and have a hard time conjuring up continuous, cumulative, lockstep employment—which is a necessary condition for success within the confines of the white male competitive model."
For too many talented women, she writes, this model doesn't work, "which is why many companies find it difficult to attract and retain female talent, just when the need for the broadest talent pool is greater than ever".
It's time for organisations to think outside the box and to design creative talent management solutions for both men and women who are looking for non-traditional career development.
Michelle Brailsford and Mary Ann Rettig-Zucchi are partners at Jupiter Consulting Group