Leadership development strategies for the female professionals

female professionals

According to a research by Ruderman & Ohlott in 2005, women tend to have a different leadership style than men. This research was focused on leadership, which is future-oriented, and strengthens organizations by inspiring their employees, supporting them to utilize creative thinking, and giving exciting opportunities for development. Such type of leadership strategy has come to be  known as transformational leadership. [1]

Furthermore, a 2008 survey from U.S. Women in Business reveals that at the beginning of 1970, women joined the workforce in record numbers, and today women make up more than half of the managerial workforce, which was only 18% in 1972. In 2008, among the Fortune 500 organizations, 15.4% were the women’s share of the top officers, and out of them 2.4% were at the position of CEOs. [2]

Although, few studies suggested that men and women are more similar than different, differences do exist in biological, neurological, and psychological dimensions. For instance, their diverse gender approaches to information understandings, responses to stress, and motivation. It has been found that women and men also have divergent perspectives on career success. Women define career success as an interest in favorite job roles, personal accomplishments, and work-life balance. On the other hand, men tend to view success as high salaries, status, and getting a higher job position.

It means men and women require different approaches to development. This article is tailored to meet women’s specific development needs and proposed recommendations targeted to female professionals.

  1. Assessment and feedback

Defining and accomplishing objectives is an extremely important part to build a successful business. Nevertheless, women leaders achieve the goal objectives by training their work groups and taking a 360-degree assessment and feedback. A 360-degree assessment and feedback is a development feedback about leadership strengths and gaps in all levels of organization.

It is possible that women professionals may not take a 360-degree assessment and feedback, because of their own lack of confidence, and bad expected results or their unwillingness to invest employees’ time, but this feedback is very beneficial for women managers in understanding where the exact improvement should be done. One should ensure that it includes behavioral indicators and relevant competencies. The shortfall of such feedback can be counterproductive in a long run.

  1. Training and education

It is fairly effective to increase knowledge of professionals, and highly effective to understand the behavioral outcomes of both men and women employees’ in the respective organization. It is one of the most frequently cited strategies for building leadership skills. Women-only development training centers are essential for women to develop a stronger sense of self and stronger relationship with other women. It is advisable that women managers seek formal education which is focused on knowledge and behavior learning outcomes that open up access to new leadership opportunities, and are very useful to enhance leadership knowledge and practice. The companies have the responsibilities to provide training and development programs specially tailored to the learning and development needs of women.

  1. Counsel of coach

O’Neil and Bilimoria published a study related to coaching in 2005 found that the career of women mostly falls within three phases: the idealism phase, the realistic endurance phase, and the reinventive contribution phase. For them to manage these stages, a different coaching is required at step. Most of the women balance their careers with their family responsibilities, and sometimes family life may force them to temporarily suspend their work life, which often affects their professional position. With such a distinct set of decisions manifest over the course of a women’s life, require a special solution-oriented approach. Many organizations are employing coaching to solve personal as well as professional issues of women employees in order to balance their life, which in turn benefits the organization. Due to the unique circumstances in women’s lives, the counsel of the coach who can aid women professionals in their personal and professional life would help a lot. This counsel of coach will focus on the holistic approach to leadership development for women by utilizing better work-life integration. [3]

  1. Mentoring

In 2003, Sullivan, de Janasz, & Whiting published a study named as, ‘Mentor Networks and career success,’ and according to the study, individuals with mentors were often satisfied, more highly paid, and had more interpersonal competence.[4] To enhance career development, diversity in mentoring relationships is useful, and they are also important to promote personal development and learning. Managerial level women are often unwilling to mentor because they feel overburdened, or that is too bad for their career life. Women receive less mentoring than their male peers, and successful women have stated that mentoring was less important to their career advancements. However, women are more likely to find themselves in cross-gender mentoring relationships than men, and it provides valuable career benefits, but these cross-gender mentoring relationships must be effectively managed by paying attention to the behaviors and feelings.

Woman-to-woman mentoring relationships are also more effective nowadays. For removing barriers that prevent women from mentoring women in organizations, they need to increase their own self-awareness and challenge assumptions that undermine connection and as a result, it enhances the power and influence of women at all ranks in organizations. The organizations should support mentoring relationships at all levels, and start structured mentoring programs that construct opportunities for women to mentor other women and men in the organization.

  1. Interpersonal networks

The factors that prevent women from advancing in their professional life are male stereotyping, exclusion from informal networks, lack of experience, and an unfriendly working environment. When men and women hold equivalent positions, women have a social orientation towards their networks while men have workaholic outlook. The friendship and advice networks add social support and encourage women to include both women and men in their networks. Men and women operate in different social circles, because men rely on one another for emotional as well as career support, and women rely on women or men for emotional support and friendship. However, for career assistance, women take advice from men. The women can connect with formal and informal networks, which include the female professionals having common experiences within organizations and industries. Organizations can provide nurturing resources to such networks, and support women to increase the access to formal and informal networks.

  1. Experiential learning

Challenging job assignments, transition to new job responsibilities and development experiences have helped a lot in leadership development, but women have limited access to challenging work assignments compared to the males.

In 1994 Adler’s study related to women managers working globally reported that only 3% of North American Managers sent abroad were women. These gaps can be narrowed if organizations provide them with full-term overseas assignments.[5] The programs should be designed in such a way that it possesses a higher risk, higher return, diverse and international responsibilities. Supporting women’s extra organizational leadership capabilities and providing organizational responsibilities can increase their leadership skills and abilities. This experiential learning develops women’s portfolios of human, social, and political capital responsibilities, which in turn improves their self confidence in their personal as well as professional life.

  1. Career planning

Women have less mobility within and between organizations and they depend on lengthy formal promotion procedures. The career plan can be a facilitator in women’s advancement because in many cases, women are not taught the fundamental strategic career and future planning in their organizations. Women who focus on their present performance are unable to cite 5 or 10-year goals. The career planning is the best strategy for a rapid career growth, as it consistently exceeds performance expectations. The major thing is that, the focus of the manager-female employee conversations is on present performance. Instead of this, women can think strategically about how to advance in their professional careers, and proactively work towards not only enhancing their career but also leadership effectiveness. The intentional career planning and purposeful leadership development for women should be supported by organizations.

All of the above development practices are beneficial for today’s professional women to gain experience and strengthen their skills, knowledge, and abilities through the various learning interactions. Some of the strategies are old, but they are so essential and effective for female professionals that without them, this article will be imperfect. With such strategies, women can take the control of their own careers, and can easily identify individual learning agendas for their leadership development experiences in the professional life. Some of the strategies may require a shift in the conventional mindset of employees at all levels in organizations. These leadership development strategies, specially designed for women may lead them to realize their individual strength and ability in organizational transformation.