Does your organization have – and share – a policy on advancing women in leadership? If you said no, you have a lot of company. In a live poll conducted during Collabera’s most recent webinar, 41% of respondents said that their employer did not have or communicate a policy supporting women leaders.

On Thursday, Collabera hosted a webinar, 3 Strategies Companies Can Implement NOW to Increase Women in Leadership in 2021. During this strategy session, Dawn Serpe, SVP of Collabera, spoke with a panel of experts on diversity and inclusion:

  • Denise Lombard, Director of Responsible Procurement at Cisco Systems and co-leader of the SJ Women of Cisco’s Community Outreach pillar, which is focused on increasing young women’s excitement and awareness around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers
  • Jeffery Tobias Halter, a gender strategist and the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement
  • Venus Rekow, the Founder of Neural Shifts, a consulting firm specialized in helping leaders drive culture change through a Diversity & Inclusion lens

These experts gave actionable advice on how to increase the number of women in leadership roles and support women leaders in their careers.

3 Strategies to Increase Women In Leadership

“This is a complicated problem with many layers,” said Dawn. “But we’ve chosen to focus on three key strategic points that will help all organizations develop or improve their women in leadership programs. To that end, we want to walk away with solid information and ideas that speak to all three strategies.”

1. Tracking and Transparency

You can’t fix what you can’t see. With this in mind, companies who know the value of supporting women in leadership have started tracking gender inclusion data and sharing the results of their findings.

The Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) helps companies benchmark their policies and financial performance against that of their peers. The 2020 GEI measured 325 companies across the globe on factors like female leadership, equal pay, inclusive culture, sexual harassment policies, and pro-woman brand.

The results, unsurprisingly, show that we have a long way to go. Per the GEI, only 6% of CEOs and 19% of executives are women. Further, only 44% of promotions in 2018 were awarded to women.

2. Engaging Men to Actively Participate

At the start of the webinar, Dawn quoted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

Male support is essential to female advancement. Given that men hold the majority of senior leadership roles, it’s critical to get male buy-in for increasing women’s presence at the top of the corporate ladder. But that means more than just lip service to the idea of supporting women leaders.

Read More: The 4 Key Actions Male Leaders Must Take To Advance Women

Jeffery said that “male allies are critically important but they’re not sufficient.” He stated that what companies really need is male advocates who are willing to pull women along who may or may not feel that they’re ready.

The question is: how do we involve men in advocating for women? One answer is to hold them accountable – not necessarily in terms of linking gender equity to compensation, but in terms of communicating expectations from senior leadership.

“McKinsey says 76% of companies articulate the case for gender equity, but only 16% hold people accountable,” Jeffery said.

Self-Assessment: Ready to Engage Male Allies and Advocates? Take the Quiz!

3. Changing Company Culture

Women also play an important part in sponsoring and supporting female leaders. Denise quoted Madeleine Albright: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Denise noted that senior women in the organization who may have adult children can help other women who are earlier in their careers and have younger children and the childcare issues that can come with that.

Venus discussed the need to shift the criteria for leadership.

“The moment that we continue to measure women under a male leadership stereotype, we set women up to fail,” she said, noting that women often bring collaboration to the table, but not a tendency toward self-promotion.

Read More: The Key to Driving Diversity Equity & Inclusion Efforts that Yield Business Results

Venus also talked about how the pandemic is putting pressure on the system of equality and highlighting the lack of support for professional women, including the need to subsidize childcare so that women aren’t forced to leave the workforce.

Little things matter, too, she said. For example, offices that are decorated like bachelor’s pads or that have only images of men hanging on the walls are not sending an inclusive message to women. (And if those images don’t include BIPOC, that’s sending an equally exclusionary message.)

The panel agreed that part of the solution is to address the pipeline, fixing the system that leaves women and girls out of leadership early on.

“We need to get to these women much earlier – I’m talking 3rd or 4th grade,” Denise said, before they get discouraged and start to believe they aren’t as smart as boys.

Watch the Webinar: 3 Strategies Companies Can Implement NOW to Increase Women In Leadership

 

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