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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 26, 2019 1:00 am

Encouraging female leadership can pay off

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

You've probably heard or read it numerous times before: Family responsibilities or the “mommy track” keep many women from executive ranks.

Well, family can certainly be a cause, but other factors can be far more significant, Diana Montero, a consultant with StratX, a leadership development firm.

Take lack of support from an organization or gender bias. And what about male-dominated leadership? 

Montero cited and examined those issues during a late-April Chief Learning Officer webinar titled “Boosting Women in Leadership: How to Develop Female Talent.”

Citing a study McKinsey & Co. released in 2012, Montero said organizations with women holding at least 30% of leadership roles are 40% more likely to have sustained, profitable growth.

A more inclusive work environment would be another benefit, along with having more women ready to assume future leadership roles, she said.

But the number of organizations focused on the issue may be going the wrong direction. According to Montero, a Women in the Workplace report said 84% of companies said they prioritized gender diversity in 2018, but that was down from 90% in 2017.

When individuals were allowed to respond as to whether their organization was doing what it takes to improve gender diversity, 45% in 2018 said yes, down from 56% in 2017. And 47% of men compared with 39% of women think gender diversity is important for their manager.

Many women want to be included, but feel pressure to perform, Montero said, citing numerous sources during the webinar, including Harvard Business Review. One article in that publication said a study of performance reviews showed far more descriptions considered positive showing up for men. “Arrogant” and “irresponsible” were among the few negative words, while positive ones like “confident,” “articulate,” “logical,” “practical,” “competent” and “analytical” showed up.

For women, “enthusiastic,” “energized” and “organized” might be among the positives, the article said. But far more negatives, including “gossip,” “impatient,” “passive” and “opportunistic” were common.

Women executives deal with multiple paradoxes, Montero said. They're expected to be demanding, yet caring; to advocate for themselves, yet serve others; to be authoritative, yet participative; and to maintain distance, yet be approachable.

Montero had webinar listeners – mostly women – participate in a poll, asking what's the most effective way men can help achieve gender parity. 

The options and percentage of responses were:

• Actively mentor high-potential women – 27%

• Increase awareness of existing barriers – 24%

• Challenge biases of leader characteristics – 44%

• (Unspecified) other – 4%

Phillipe Latapie, a managing director with StratX, said during the webinar that gender biases show up frequently in various research. He said men, for example, tend to focus on qualities such as being assertive, having presence or communication when mentoring women. When men mentor males, they tend to focus on areas such as strategy and business financials.

Montero said it's never too early to start encouraging gender equality. Seasoned women leaders, for example, could mentor and coach younger people through internships.

Staying competent and confident is important, as is focusing on quality instead of quantity and following up on meaningful interactions. Successful leaders, she added, work closely with teams.

For decision makers, tips include establishing targets, reporting and accountability; ensuring hiring and promotions are fair; making senior leaders and managers champions of diversity; and fostering an inclusive and respectful culture.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at lisagreen@jg.net. Lead On also appears as a blog at www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on/.