Inclusive Leaders Bring Workplace Development Full Circle

Companies that give managers the right tools to support high-talent women will see the investment pay off, according to a new report.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
A diverse group of people in an office conference room

NATIONAL REPORT — Many organizations are investing in developing women leaders, but the efforts can fall flat without the right follow through. 

In a recent report, two executive coaches and two educators spoke with MarketWatch about the pitfalls that can drive women to burn out at work. Most often, according to the news outlet, managers do not know there is a problem until the employee decides to leave. 

Ellen Keithline Byrne, an executive coach and co-founder of Her New Standard: The Playbook for Women Leaders; Denise D'Agostino, a human resources leader, executive coach and co-founder at Her New Standard: The Playbook for Women Leaders; W. Brad Johnson, a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law at the United States Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School of Education at Johns Hopkins University; and David G. Smith, an associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, contributed to the report. 

[Read more: Change Leadership Is Central Thread of 2023 Future Leaders in Convenience Summit]

According to MarketWatch, shifting from male-centric organizational cultures to more inclusive cultures requires companies to invest further in changing systems that perpetuate the status quo. This includes training managers to be inclusive leaders, allies and sponsors for high-talent women, and then holding those managers accountable for results.

"It makes little sense for an organization to support high-talent women for leadership roles without taking full advantage of that investment by equipping the managers who will be essential to their successful advancement in the workplace. This is like a sports team investing only in their offense, while erroneously assuming the defense knows exactly how to play," the report stated. 

Citing The McKinsey Women in the Workplace Report 2022, the news outlet pointed out that just 60% of the women felt they received helpful feedback from their managers and only 40% felt their managers showed interest in their career and helped them manage their workload.

While any organizations support women's leadership development programs (WLDPs), many graduates of WLDPs are frustrated when they return to the workplace only to discover that their own managers are unprepared to champion them.

Byrne, D'Agostino, Johnson and Smith offered four recommendations for managers with participants in WLDPs.

  1. Be clear about why she was selected, what you want her to get from the program and what support she can expect.
  2. Meet regularly during the program to hear her takeaways and help her apply them within the organization. Collaborate with her to mitigate gendered headwinds to advancement.
  3. Purposefully build her developmental network by connecting her to potential mentors and sponsors in the organization and be a vocal and public advocate for her taking on stretch assignments including promotion opportunities that leverage both her potential and demonstrated competence.
  4. Give her ongoing career-related feedback when you see her stretching into new leadership behaviors or reverting to comfortable habits. Be sure to get feedback from her about how you are doing as an WLDP sponsor and inclusive leader.

"WLDPs offer a proven strategy for accelerating progress on the advancement of women. But to get the most from these programs, organizational leaders should seize the opportunity to engage managers at key points on a woman's journey through the program. This will equip leaders to be more effective allies, sponsors and inclusive leaders," the report added.

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