Whether you’re just starting to plan a women’s initiative for your company or you want to improve an existing program, there are steps you can take for a successful outcome. AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) has created resources and a “blueprint” to help a company through any phase of its planning.
From listening to leaders who approached AMA for assistance, the WLC created a high-level roadmap for developing or finessing a women’s initiative. “The most important thing is to get started,” said Lauren McNally, director of the WLC, at a May 2 breakfast briefing held at AMA. “Through meaningful education, women can start to get the tools for advancement…. That’s our main goal, to get women into leadership roles.”
The event was the second of two panel discussions about why women’s leadership initiatives are needed, and how to start one or fine-tune an existing one. Along with McNally, the panel consisted of Tonya Echols, executive coach and leadership consultant, Vigere; and Barbara Zung, SVP, chief human resources officer, AMA.
Women’s initiatives build women’s leadership
Attendees included heads of human resources departments, learning and development directors, and other business representatives in various stages of creating or running women’s leadership initiatives. By a show of hands, the audience indicated they were in different developmental stages within their initiatives.
Panelists said that the steps you need to take will differ depending on which phase you’re in and what your goals are.
Phase one is getting started. You know this is important, but you’re overwhelmed or may not know where to begin. Your first step is to:
Build community. Offer digital resources that participants can self-select so they have access to learning from anywhere and on their schedule. Also, plan in-person activities and events to begin the conversation and relationship building internally. While you’re building community, develop your long-term plan. Define your goals, understand how you will measure your results, and start your communication plan and content calendar.
Those in phase two have the networking and community aspect and now want to work in more meaningful learning. The next step is to:
Make greater impact with group learning and skill building. Decide how content will be delivered and identify reinforcement tools to keep momentum going between classes. This might be coaching or discussion meetings where employees talk about how they are applying new skills to their jobs. Workshops during this phase will include more general skills such as communication, leadership, and confidence building.
Phase three: “This level offers more advanced resources to help address individual development needs,” the WLC’s blueprint explains. “Here, you invest in women who show true potential to step up into future leadership roles.” In this phase, companies can take an additional step:
Invest in women who show potential to be future leaders. Now that you have a solid structure with community building and consistent content delivery—both virtual and instructor led—take time to address skill gaps specific to individual needs and create a learning journey to work toward your goals. There are skills that may not apply to all the participants, such as finance, analytical skills, or strategic planning. At this stage, you should have more structure around measuring results. This includes analyzing participation rates, getting feedback from trainees, and reporting to senior management on how the program is benefiting the organization.
There won’t be a one-size-fits-all strategy, and every level will evolve, Echols pointed out. The programs need personalization that takes company culture and the needs of each group into account, even between departments at the same company location. “What works in one element may not work or even be needed in another,” she said.
Echols noted that women’s leadership, and the women’s initiatives that help women train for leadership, will have an impact on how people view your company. “People—women—are making purchasing decisions based on companies’ values,” she said. So your initiative, or lack of one, “starts to impact everything,” Echols said. “The brand that you build is impacted by that.”
Let’s discuss your goals and how we can help you build a successful women’s initiative, along with other WLC resources, training and events. To talk with a Women’s Leadership Expert, fill out this form.