A company initiative that develops women for leadership and career growth is something any successful organization should consider, panelists at an AMA Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) event said on April 17.
“Developing a Successful Women’s Initiative in Your Organization” was a special breakfast briefing hosted by the WLC and attended by human resources managers and directors, as well as learning and development directors and other business representatives. It featured panelists Lauren McNally, director of the Women’s Leadership Center; Angela Kegler, PhD, facilitator for AMA’s women’s courses and CEO of the Kegler Group; and Barbara Zung, SVP, chief human resources officer, at AMA.
The briefing focused on how to:
- Prepare women for future leadership opportunities
- Overcome common challenges when creating a women’s initiative
- Create an engaging, meaningful development program
- Understand the value and impact on your people and organization
Why a women’s initiative is needed
“With all the conversations with clients, participants and feedback from the WLC, we knew that there was a real need here for women and organizations,” McNally told the audience. “Now more than ever, women are empowered to have their voices be heard—and in the right way, so they are seen as strong and powerful leaders.”
Having more women in leadership also helps the bottom line, she said: Organizations that have at least 30% of their senior leadership made up of women produce, on average, about 15% more in profits.
Kegler said that when she facilitates women-only programs, she asks for feedback about women’s concerns. “One of the most powerful messages that came from these women was fear,” she noted. Almost every group listed a fear of failure. “As they started to engage in dialogue, you could see the confidence starting to rise in the room. That’s really the power of these WLC events—giving them the confidence plus the tools or skills,” she said.
Courses designed specifically for women allow them to take more risks, so they can return to work able to apply what they learned with confidence, Kegler added.
“This is why we are doing what we are doing to support organizations,” Zung said. “It’s time for us to give women the support and tools to rise to their full potential and help their businesses be even more successful.”
Starting a women’s initiative
The panelists mentioned several key elements of a successful women’s initiative:
Starting with leadership buy-in. “If your leaders aren’t on board, your employees won’t be on board,” McNally said. “Make this a corporate initiative…a focused effort to invest in women to make real change.”
Also, find your champions—especially at the top, added Kegler. “The more champions you can find in leadership roles, the more success you’re going to have,” she said.
Including men. Start a dialogue and create awareness. Kegler suggested creating events for both men and women, such as a recent corporate event she attended where men shared stories about how women had helped them and how they were now being allies to women. “Hearing their stories was interesting. All of these men had women who had supported them,” Kegler said.
“I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest that men be included,” McNally emphasized. “You don’t want it to be men vs. women…. Men need us; we need men.”
Moving beyond networking to training. The WLC’s directors realized that in order to give women avenues to higher positions, it needed to focus on meaningful learning and training, McNally said. “While we absolutely believe that building community, a strong network, mentors, are all very important to growth, that will not get you the results you are looking for to move more women into leadership roles,” she said. “What do you want to accomplish from a skill-building perspective?”
Measuring results. “You need results to continue to fund, continue to have buy-in, engagement, and so on…and you’re not going to see results immediately, especially with some of the longer-term goals,” McNally said. She suggested sending out surveys and holding discussion groups after events, asking not only if attendees liked the event but if they are applying what they learned. There are also assessments, such as AMA’s Skill Assessment tools, that measure where someone started and where they are now, she said.
The WLC’s learning and development specialists work with companies to understand their unique needs and goals, so that the WLC can create an initiative that aligns with your vision, D&I strategy, and overall talent development plan, McNally said.
At some point, such initiatives won’t be needed, and it will just be natural for both women and men to be leaders, Zung said. “Women are sitting at the table—why are we still talking about this?” she asked. It’s because more than just diversity and inclusion are needed. Women also need to feel that they belong. “That’s when it feels more natural,” she said.
Learn how you can start, build or enhance your women’s initiative. Let’s discuss your goals and see how we can help you get there. Learn more about WLC resources, training and events. Click here to find out more and fill out the form to talk with a Women’s Leadership Associate.