Are Potential Woman Leaders Discouraged By Your Leadership Training?

Senior businesswoman listens to her colleague during a staff meeting

Women comprise the majority of the workforce in many sectors, yet remain underrepresented among senior leadership. While the root causes of this gap are complex and cannot be solved with training alone, creating better-designed, gender-inclusive leadership training can be a significant part of the solution.

Unsurprisingly, the way leadership training is typically designed and delivered in most organizations does not favor women’s success. Fortunately, there are some practical steps organizations can take to make their leadership training programs more gender-inclusive:

  • Assess candidates’ potential, not just their baseline skills. When selecting “high potential” candidates for leadership training, organizations will assess how much a person already knows about strategy, change management, the industry landscape, etc. This creates an exclusionary loop: if women aren’t getting opportunities to develop these skills in their current jobs, then how will they ever qualify for leadership training?

    Instead, organizations can assess key aptitudes such as curiosity, determination, engagement and insight. These have been shown to correlate with leadership potential, yet have nothing to do with prior industry experience. Not surprisingly, women consistently outscore men in many key aptitudes associated with effective leadership.

  • In addition to training female leaders, train male leaders on the importance of women’s leadership. A worldwide study of 22,000 companies found that, on average, organizations with a high percentage of female leaders were more profitable than those dominated by men. This suggests that development and retention of female leaders isn’t just a “social justice” issue – it’s an organizational performance issue. Hence, any organization interested in improving its performance should be training both male and female leaders to encourage and support the advancement of women.

  • Overcome gender stereotypes and develop holistic leaders. Much of the conversation about women’s leadership revolves around how women need to speak their minds more forcefully and negotiate more aggressively in their own interests. There are two problems with this. First, it overlooks the fact that many male leaders are deficient in these skills and could benefit from the same training. Second, it ignores the fact that male leaders often need training in “female” leadership qualities such consensus-building and active listening. By ignoring gender stereotypes and training everyone on a holistic set of leadership skills, organizations can achieve the best of all worlds.

If your organization is dealing with these issues, or any other learning-related challenges, please contact Sonata Learning.


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