In this article, Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi, President & CEO, WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. talks through four steps to jump start a women’s career advancement.
In this blog, I ask you, as your organization’s L&D team, to consider how you can support four proven steps to help high potential women advance their careers.
These steps can serve as an antidote to the “mid-career stall” many organizations experience with their female talent. As CLO, you are ideally poised to help female talent “learn” these steps, while also garnering for them the support of their managers and senior leadership. Over the years, I have helped hundreds of companies and thousands of women reap the benefits of this organized and intentional approach to career advancement.
A word of warning. The effectiveness of these strategies is significantly undermined when they are viewed as “either/or.” Rather, they should be adopted in totality as stepping stones to success.
Supporting Female Talent: Help Them Embrace 4 Steps to Success
Step 1: Understanding Their Impact on the Business
This is the crucial first step, because as that old saying goes: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead you there.” Too often women, especially mid-career women, don’t have a clear picture of how to shift, hone and fine tune their skills and talents to contribute to corporate growth and profitability, an on-going process which needs to be revisited as they advance their careers. Rather than looking forward to what they CAN accomplish, women frequently stay stuck in a rear-view-mirror perspective.
By realistically coupling what they’d like to do with corporate needs, women can begin to forge a game plan for advancement. Embracing this combined personal and corporate outlook, they will be able to orchestrate a realistic strategy that benefits both themselves and the organization.
Step 2: Eliciting Feedback
Unless women receive guidance from their managers and leaders as they shape their view of career possibilities, their chances for advancement are minimal. Unfortunately, research continues to show that in terms of both quality and quantity of feedback, women are short-changed, not just in formal performance reviews, but across interactions.
Women themselves are in the best position to change this career-sabotaging scenario by actively seeking out feedback in a variety of ways. During formal reviews, they need to elicit guidance from their bosses that goes beyond performance metrics to potential opportunities. When they have completed a major project, they need to ask for honest reactions from their boss and from others who have been involved. When they sense something is amiss, they need to get to the bottom of it.
The probability of more high potential women reaching the C-suite increases dramatically when, through the lens of honest feedback, they learn to leverage their strengths and address their shortcomings.
Step 3: Forging Relationships That Matter
Women themselves must do much of the heavy lifting to advance their careers, but both empirical and anecdotal evidence continually confirm that they can’t do it alone. The right relationships are a hallmark of career success. And it’s not about how many; it’s about how good, with mentors and networks being key players. However, even before forging meaningful, career-advancing relationships, women must develop a comfortable relationship with themselves, their competencies, and where they want to be in the organization, much of which will result when Steps 1 and 2 are successfully in place.
Research shows that a number of strategies help ensure the development and maintenance of meaningful, career-advancing relationships for high potential women. They include:
- Actively seeking out mentoring and networking relationships; and once established keeping them active and vibrant
- Ensuring that relationships are diverse, include both men and women, and extend beyond regular interactions
- Reviewing and evolving relationships as careers change and grow
- Eliciting honest feedback from mentors and networks, just as pointed out in Step 2
- Evaluating and leveraging the advice and counsel provided
- Seeking out individuals at higher corporate levels
Step 4: Becoming Sensible Risk Takers
Once talented women understand how they can contribute to the organization, are receiving honest feedback from their bosses and have forged relationships that support reality-based career goals, they are ready to look at the right kinds of risks to take. As I often tell the hundreds of talented women I meet each year: “Sometimes the worst risk you can take is taking no risk at all.”
The evidence is clear: women tend to be more risk averse than their male counterparts. For example, they are more reluctant to step up to a stretch assignment, or to make their voice heard when it’s an opposition voice. Perhaps most career-damaging, they often refuse the opportunity to move up to a higher position because they don’t feel they have all the required expertise. Men, on the other hand, tend to believe that what they’ve done to date qualifies them for the next step up. In research it is known as the potential vs. performance gap.
By being willing to advance to a position where they don’t know all the ins and outs, high potential women take a giant step towards increasing their ranks at the highest levels of corporate America. It is a risk well worth taking because it’s one that helps shatter the glass ceiling.
Only One Aspect of Achieving Gender Parity
Of course, these steps are only one component of a broad-based, organization-wide approach to gender parity. As is the case with internal programs, these 4 steps alone will not achieve sustainable gender parity. Rather, it occurs when all key parties—HR, talent and learning executives, managers, mentors and senior leadership—play a meaningful role, along with the women themselves.
I look forward to addressing these other contributors to gender parity in future articles.