How to Get the Whole Company on Board with Your Women’s Leadership Initiative

February 26, 2020

Women’s leadership initiative

If you don’t have a women’s leadership development initiative in place, chances are your company could benefit from one, experts from the AMA Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) believe.

It’s not always easy getting important programs like this off the ground, though. Having some key players on board is essential, a WLC panel told HR department heads, learning and development directors, and other Dallas-area business leaders. The group was assembled at the January WLC “breakfast briefing” on starting or improving a women’s leadership initiative in your company.

These WLC briefings are being held around the country. The next one will be a luncheon briefing in Boston on March 26. The WLC will also host a complimentary webcast on the topic on April 29.

The WLC has a high-level roadmap to help you through any phase of planning a women’s program, but getting started is the most important step, says Lauren McNally, WLC director. The idea is that through meaningful education, women will develop the tools they need to advance into leadership roles—one of the main goals of the WLC, McNally says.

At the well-attended Dallas event, McNally was joined by Tonya Echols, an executive coach and a leadership consultant at Vigere, in a discussion panel moderated by Tammy Swed, a learning solutions manager at AMA.

The panelists said that there were several phases to developing initiatives:

  • Community building. Here, you offer global digital resources so that participants have access to learning from any location that they can experience together virtually. You can also plan in-person activities and events to begin relationship building internally at each location and bring different locations together throughout the year.
  • Group learning and skill building. Provide more detailed, extensive resources to help women learn additional skills they need for advancement through workshops. Decide how content will be delivered, and establish tools to reinforce learning between classes through on demand content and coaching from managers.
  • Individual training plans toward leadership roles. Invest in women who show true leadership potential while defining areas where they may have skill gaps, such as in finance, analytical skills, or strategic planning. From this, plan an individualized development program to support succession planning and retainment of high potentials.

Getting buy-in across the board for a women’s leadership initiative

Every phase in your initiative will evolve, Echols emphasizes, and will be personal to your company culture and the needs of specific groups. What works in one department at your company may not work in another.

It’s also vital to get buy-in from male allies in the company. Talk about what your experience is, Echols says, and get an idea of the intersectionality of different people’s experiences. Don’t expect that all women will feel the same about your initiative.

One Dallas-area male HR director asked the panel how to engage women who have been with the company for years and are skeptical of such training programs. He said they feel that nothing ever comes of such things—there’s never any change.

These are some of the people you want to include, along with the male allies, as your champions, Swed says. “Appeal to their emotions,” she suggests. “Yes, they did not have the opportunities or access to resources that women in the organization have today—but they can be role models, they can set the tone for future leaders.”

And, if people feel that nothing ever changes, then actually make changes, Echols adds. “You have to do it,” she says.

Profitability and public relations

Of course, making change requires buy-in from senior leadership, and this often comes down to demonstrating how your bottom line and public image will be affected, Echols says. People make purchasing decisions based on companies’ values, so having women in leadership and having an initiative that trains women for leadership will have a positive impact on how people view your company.

Finally, Echols points out the importance of recognizing that for women of color and other women, backgrounds and experiences can vary greatly. It’s important to talk about that.

“We [women] are not a monolith,” Echols says. “The bigger thing is that they’re having the conversation.”

If you’re looking to build your women’s leadership program in a meaningful way to create a lasting impact in your organization, sign up for the 1-Day Workshop: Strategies for Building an Impactful Women’s Initiative. Or we can bring this to your company and specifically tailor it to your challenges and goals.

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About The Author

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department. She has worked in editorial for more than 20 years. Arzooman also is a visual artist.

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