Incorporate These Changes to Develop More Female Leadership

Julie Shenkman
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Gender diversity is a crucial issue for companies that want to eliminate discrimination and encourage equality. According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, only 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women. By finding ways to develop female leaders, you can create a culture that's appealing to customers, partners and potential employees.

Eliminate Discriminatory Policies

The first step toward developing female leaders is removing policies and practices that act as roadblocks. Take a close look at your company's rules, promotion practices, employee policies and operations, and identify anything that might be discriminatory. Keep in mind these issues are often well-hidden and difficult to spot. For example, if leadership roles require 12-hour shifts, it might be prohibitive for women with children. Pay special attention to your hiring practices to ensure that interviewers are not asking illegal questions about family status or plans for children. When it comes to promotions and raises, you want criteria that are completely objective; this ensures managers are not rewarding men at a greater rate due to an unconscious gender bias rather than merit.

Give Difficult Feedback

Feedback is essential for employees of any gender. It helps workers identify strengths and opportunities for growth, which makes it easier to move up the career ladder. If you want to develop female leaders, make sure your managers aren't editing their feedback to avoid being hurtful to women employees. This practice is often not intentional, but it is decidedly discriminatory because it assumes that women aren't tough enough to face criticism or deal with their mistakes. Worse, it can have detrimental effects on an employee's progression. Without tough feedback, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to building skills and becoming a more powerful employee.

Open a Discussion

One of the most important ways to eliminate discrimination and improve your company is to open a discussion. Your female employees are your best source of insight and information, so it's useful to encourage them to point out problematic situations, comments and practices. For example, in many workplaces, women are teased or called names when they behave as aggressively or firmly as their male counterparts. Instead of letting that behavior slide, encourage your workers to call it out and have a civil conversation. The same goes for workers who use gender as an insult with phrases such as, "you're whining like a little girl" or "you know who wears the pants in that relationship." Drawing attention to these small slights can be uncomfortable, but it builds awareness and creates a women-friendly culture that's better able to support female leaders.

Provide Support

Gender discrimination is embedded deep into the foundations of society and the workforce, and combating it can feel like an uphill battle. Help your female leaders by providing support at all stages. Educate them about the promotions that are available, and encourage them as they work toward each goal. If they can't participate in evening continuing education courses because of family responsibilities, help them find alternatives. Consider a mentoring program that pairs female employees with high-achieving women, or encourage them to work together to support each other.

By consciously developing female leaders, you can stay ahead of the curve. With the right programs and support, your company can boost gender diversity and reduce discrimination.

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