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The Future Of Female Leaders: How Organisations Must Up Their Investment

By Cindy Wahler 


Print media, social media, and virtually all forms of communication advising that women need to show up differently in order to gain influence and traction may potentially be misguided.

Women are just fine.

The fact that women are still facing challenges in populating the executive ranks as well as representation on boards is not a women’s issue. The more we categorize it as such, the greater is the propensity for isolating women and creating support groups by women for women. These groups do have value. They provide validation for similar challenges and create a broad based network to obtain mentoring, guidance, and counsel.

The task force and thoughtful network that needs to be established is a group of senior executive leaders of both genders. A systematic approach to succession planning where the best candidates are provided the necessary leadership development and breadth of expertise must be implemented.

Organizations spend a substantive amount of time lamenting the dearth of next generation leaders and the lack of qualified successors. It is as if they are saying there is an absence of talent. Could that be so? Could there really be a shortage of talent in most industry sectors? Or is it a question of who must own this dilemma?

Organizations of course want to and should promote from within. Internal employees understand the culture, can use established currency to achieve business objectives, and foster the right kinds of relationships. When organizations need to seek external candidates, it is warranted if a specialized skill set, background, or global expertise is required. In other instances, the need to seek outside talent may be a failing of the organization.

The best talent has never been gender specific yet why are women not equally represented? A critical paradigm shift is required. If the top of the house truly believes that as an organization they are more than a symbol for diversity then this must be actualized in numbers. Programs and succession planning should be designed to bring out the best in all leaders.

Diagnostics always play a key role in remedying a situation. If women are not being promoted then an organization should retroactively go back and understand why not. Although each scenario might be different, I would venture to guess there are some overriding themes. The factors once identified could then be addressed. Perhaps it is a shortage of required skills or an unconscious bias based upon the hiring manager or selection committee? Once a pattern emerges, leadership programs can be customized to fit specific lines of business. The investment of customized programs, whether individualized for specific leaders or offered as a broad based initiative, would be aimed at developing top talent.

“The best talent has never been gender specific yet why are women not equally represented?”

Selection and calibration committees must also be revamped. Often senior leaders have an unconscious bias and are not put to the task of truly proving statistically why a leader should or shouldn’t be promoted. The goal is to increase your hit rate. It is a failing of the organization if candidates are promoted before they are ready, or if candidates are overlooked who have not been given a fair “hearing”.

Should a candidate be identified as not ready, they often sit there until they are deemed promotable. It’s as if through passage of time and sheer osmosis they will then be ready. A specific development plan that both the leader and executive are held accountable for must be implemented. Executives must be incentivized and should be rewarded for their ability to develop successors. A successor should not be defined within narrow terms such as, “can they do their boss’s job?” but rather, “is the candidate promotable and can they now contribute more broadly?”

The irony is that most organizations do want to breed thought disruptors and change agents. In order to stay competitive this is crucial. Organizations must scrutinize their own methodology used to select, identify, and develop change leaders of both genders.

This will truly mean that female leaders will have a seat at the table as equal representatives at all levels of an organization. With the right mindset and true commitment, this challenge can be historical. The very essence of thought leadership is diversity.



Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at