Despite efforts to close the gender gap in the workplace, men continue to hold the majority of corporate leadership positions. For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted. This “broken rung” at the bottom of the ladder greatly reduces the number of women at the top. As of January 2023, there are only 53 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. While this number sets a record high, it also shows that we have a long way to go.
Although women only hold 10% of these top leadership positions, studies have shown that women actually score higher than men when it comes to leadership skills. In addition, a higher percentage of women have college degrees than men. So what prevents women from advancing in companies if it isn’t their abilities or qualifications? The answer lies within organizations’ unwritten barriers and biases that hold women back.
As leaders and companies have begun to emphasize diversity efforts in the workplace, many have recruited outside help to drive gender equity and make significant organizational changes.
As a women-owned and led professional development and executive coaching company, Fast Forward Group offers women’s leadership development programs and executive coaching for companies and leaders that want to achieve gender equity in the workplace. If you are looking for ideas on how to support women in the workplace, women’s leadership development programs are an excellent place to start.
Why Women’s Leadership Development Programs Are Necessary
To support women in your organization, you first need to recognize the unique challenges women face in the workplace, including:
- Balancing caregiving responsibilities and career ambition
- Navigating unconscious bias
- Having fewer female leaders represented at the top
- Dealing with imposter syndrome
- Having fewer sponsors to advocate on their behalf
Supporting women through these challenges helps to ensure that employees have equal opportunities to succeed and contribute to the company.
How Women’s Ascension Builds Better Companies
Supporting women in the workplace provides countless benefits to your company. From an improved work culture to better financial outcomes, it is well-researched that female leaders positively impact organizations.
When the workforce is more diverse, companies experience an increase in sales, expanded markets, more innovation, and increased productivity. Women also bring a unique leadership style to the workplace, often managing their employees with a different level of support and understanding. Female leaders tend to put more time into coaching and mentoring their employees, contributing to a stronger and more productive workforce.
How Can My Company Support Women in the Workplace?
1. Set a Bold Vision for Supporting Women’s Ascension
Companies first need to define what success looks like in terms of gender equity in the next 3 years. When writing this long-term vision, be bold about your goals. IBM suggests companies aim for 10X improvements rather than focusing on small steps for change. Your bold vision should include specific and measurable criteria that allow you to track your success.
To truly make a difference in the workplace, companies need to commit largely and fully to their vision of gender equity. Once the 3-year vision with annual milestones for success is communicated, leaders should create a 90-day action plan to make their vision a reality. This plan may include:
- Examining recruiting, hiring, and promotion processes to ensure women have equal opportunities.
- Conducting pay audits by gender and race to uncover inequities and correct them.
- Filling the pipeline with women and having solid development plans in place for ascension.
- Offering the necessary leadership development programs to help women succeed.
After your bold vision for improvement is set, get key stakeholders working relentlessly to achieve it. Treat reaching this vision as if your company’s survival depends on it.
2. Start a Female Sponsorship Program
Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored at work. Mentorship provides women with support and guidance, but it does not always help them advance in their careers. Sponsorship is different. A sponsor is someone with power and influence who uses it to advance their sponsee’s career. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found the following results:
- Men are more likely to have sponsors than women
- Increased sponsorship leads to more promotions
- Women reported having to fight with mentors to be viewed as ready to advance
- Men reported the opposite—their mentors helped them strategize and plan moves to advance their careers
Building a sponsorship program to support women in the workplace is not an easy task. You must clearly communicate the program’s intent within your company and distinguish the difference between sponsors and mentors. This is especially important if you already have a mentorship program in place.
A sponsorship program pairs high-potential women with high-ranking sponsors who use their influence to advocate on their behalf. These relationships usually have a regular standing meeting and span years.
A mentorship program pairs women with a trusted mentor for development, support, and guidance.
It’s important to consider how to match up mentors/sponsors with your employees. Generally, mentors are matched based on personality types, while sponsors are matched based on rankings within the company and the sponsee’s career aspirations.
3. Provide Employees With as Much Flexibility as Possible
Women gravitate towards companies with flexible work schedules that accommodate family needs. An employee should not have to compromise their career to care for their family. Allowing employees to have flexible schedules can help your company’s women and men succeed in their careers and family needs.
Ways to provide flexibility that can support both men and women in the workplace include:
- Creating part-time positions
- Allowing employees to flex hours
- Giving opportunities for remote or hybrid work
- Allowing employees to propose their own work schedules
No two employees are exactly alike, and neither are their scheduling needs. Talk to each employee individually to create a schedule that will benefit everyone.
4. Create Communities Where Employees Have Similar Ambitions and Challenges
It’s essential to have spaces where your female employees can feel comfortable discussing workplace challenges, get support from other women, and realize they are not alone.
Bringing together a group to create this space—potentially formally as an Employee Resource Group—will help your employees feel supported and empowered and make a significant impact on your company. Oftentimes, these spaces are also where mentorships are fostered organically and on the employee’s own terms.
Consider bringing in motivational speakers to inspire your team with an outside perspective, which can strengthen the community of your employees and help start important discussions. You can also host workshops to help women succeed in your leadership team.
5. Use Professional Development Programs From Experts
A recent McKinsey study found that a lack of career development and advancement is the number one reason people are leaving their jobs. To retain employees, it’s crucial to offer development opportunities that help employees advance in their careers.
An effective way to do this is by bringing in outside experts. Use a company that can give women and their managers tangible learning and tools to drive meaningful and lasting change. This will result in long-term benefits for your company. If you are ready to find a professional development program, look for one with a proven track record.
How Fast Forward Group Can Help
Fast Forward Group is a go-to resource for women’s empowerment and cultural transformation. Founded and led by two successful business women, Fast Forward Group has helped leaders around the globe produce significant and lasting change at their companies.
What Makes Us Unique
We take a whole-life approach because we know that people do their best work when they are living their best lives. This is especially valuable to women.
More than 100,000 professionals worldwide have benefited from Fast Forward’s workshops and executive coaching. Our proven approach has a lasting impact on risk-taking, time management, confidence, communication, and resilience.
To support women in the workplace, Fast Forward offers:
- Fast Forward Women program and workshops
- 1:1 and small group executive coaching
- High-impact motivational speaking engagements
JPMorgan Chase Testimonial
Hear about our impact on women executives across levels at JPMorgan Chase from Sam Saperstein, MD, and Head of Women on the Move.
Fast Forward Women’s Leadership Development Program Testimonial: JPMorgan Chase Women on the Move from Fast Forward Group on Vimeo.
Now that you know 5 actions you can take to support women in the workplace, we invite you to join our free one-hour public workshop to get a taste of the Fast Forward Women program.
By the end of the workshop, you will appreciate why so many leading companies choose Fast Forward for their women’s leadership development initiatives.