Women currently make-up the largest proportion of the labor force at 57.8%. In the past year, 3.3 million jobs went to women, and almost twice as many jobs went to women as men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women are a substantial part of today’s global workforce, yet they represent only 8.2% of the CEO positions of Fortune 500 companies, and only 23% of women currently occupy executive positions. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2021 only 27% of senior vice president positions and only 24% of C-suite (executive-level managerial) positions were held by women.
Clearly the movement of women to senior roles is not happening fast enough and there is an immediate need for effective women’s leadership training programs in the workplace. These programs will ultimately create more senior positions in companies for women and will help shift the narrative.
Challenges women face in the corporate world, such as gender stereotyping and sociocultural conditioning to prioritize families over careers, have contributed to the slow pace of women’s advancement. In contrast to gender-neutral leadership training, training created specifically for women helps them tap into their leadership potential. Some key benefits to creating a women’s leadership program include increased morale, lower turnover, making women feel empowered and valued, and improved company reputation. For companies to remain competitive, a well-designed women’s leadership training program will increase productivity and identify future leaders.
Here are seven must-haves for creating an effective women’s leadership training program:
Incorporate interactive, scenario-based learning
A customized women’s leadership training program will ensure that it is relatable to its target audience. To achieve this goal, offer an interactive, scenario-based learning experience. This type of learning allows women to have a hands-on approach and better prepares them for real-world job responsibilities. It also produces training that is visually appealing, and the real-life examples create an authentic experience for women. The scenarios should be aligned to an individual’s job and business goals and include real time feedback using questions, answers, and explanations, allowing recall to be more effective. One of the strongest benefits of interactive, scenario-based learning is that it provides a safe training environment for women to learn and to apply what they have learned. This type of learning can also validate the decision-making process so what has been learned can be applied with confidence.
Deal with gender bias and microaggressions
Women have always experienced various verbal, behavioral, and environmental microaggressions in the workplace. Whether these subtle discriminations have been intentional, or subconscious is immaterial. Effective leadership training for women must focus on skills for them to overcome societal barriers and biases, while helping them deal with any unfortunate prejudices that still exist. Some examples of gender biases and microaggressions that occur daily are mom-shaming, sexist language, derogatory messages based on gender, name calling, and men speaking over women in meetings. Sometimes the interruptions are very subtle, but eventually a woman will stop giving her opinion. Needed skills to effect change include confidence building, trusting one’s own voice, building and leading teams, setting and achieving goals, and learning to ask for help. It is also vital to emphasize the importance of women seeking support from other women in the workplace. This is where a mentoring program can be effective as part of a women’s leadership program.
Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
A women’s leadership training program helps women understand the importance of inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Being inclusive toward their peers and teams is certain to play a big part in their senior leadership roles. Therefore, training should stress the significance of ensuring fairness and belonging toward their teams, peers, and other leaders, always.
Women are perceived to be naturally people-oriented and community-centric. However, a focused women’s leadership training will bolster their ability to ensure overall employee well-being, and improved job performance and job satisfaction levels. Some key examples of what can be done to ensure that women are considering diversity, equity, and inclusion in their leadership roles include creating a space where women can learn from each other, establishing internal learning communities, pairing women with senior executives through a buddy or mentoring program, looking at your workplace and assessing how to make it more inclusive, honoring different perspectives and voices, and creating a sense of belonging.
Wendy Lee Austin, a leadership and coaching consultant who specializes in female leadership, advises, “When women feel seen and heard they then feel a sense of belonging. As leaders, listening is the key, and creating a sense of belonging is the game changer to great leadership and inclusivity.”
Enhance communication, influencing, leadership, and negotiating skills
Training should promote collaborative and participative leadership styles that are different from and more beneficial than the traditional, autocratic, and authoritative styles often seen in many organizations. Such styles can go a long way in managing team conflict effectively and have a positive influence on the team. To make a women’s leadership program effective, communication and negotiation skills are critical. Organizations who create mentoring programs and educate woman about common biases that negotiators face have benefited by enabling potential leaders. How and when to be assertive, active listening, persuasion, proper planning, problem solving, high emotional intelligence, and strategizing are all important components of a successful program.
Use a blended learning approach
The core learning content may not be enough to make the required impact. The training should use a blended approach that provides other learning opportunities. For instance, women taking the training are instructed to participate in elaborate, offline role-playing group activities that mimic various real-world workplace scenarios. These activities aid in learning how to handle difficult work situations as leaders, while applying the knowledge learned during the training. This approach also helps to refine critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making skills.
Similarly, the women’s leadership training program should also offer webinars and live coaching sessions where a professional female leadership coach guides learners on how to break glass ceilings, grow their careers, and transform their skillsets to thrive. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from these sessions will help female leaders coach or mentor their own team members in the future. Additionally, a blended approach using multiple modalities greatly reinforces engagement, learning, and retention; controls of the pace of learning (flexibility); and is designed to be modular, scalable, and cost effective.
Promote strategic thinking and networking
To help women thrive as leaders, an effective women’s leadership training program will encourage women to think strategically. Individual or team roleplays help achieve this goal. In addition, the training should stress the importance of knowledge sharing, active listening, positive communication, and utilizing 360 feedback to facilitate strategic thinking.
Emphasize the importance of networking; preparing, building, and strengthening an existing network; joining a group; building positive work relationships; knowledge sharing; and facilitating overall professional growth and development. These activities assist in finding valuable long-term business contacts and focus on new business directions. Proper networking can unlock some powerful tools for a woman’s career, including hearing advice from experts, peers, other leaders, and sharing knowledge and experience which will ultimately provide connections and collaboration.
Ensure continuous feedback and updates
To ensure the program is effective in the workplace, it must be updated using continuous feedback gained from the learners throughout the training. For instance, women may want more examples of workplace scenarios, an easier user interface, additional learning resources, access to other specific content, or additional interactive features. The training should be continuously revised to ensure it remains practical, engaging, and applicable to the learners.
It is important to realize that both women and the organizations they work for stand to benefit from women-centric leadership training programs. Austin stated that in her international experience with clients, “When women feel included and appreciated, and they feel they have a voice, it empowers them to be great leaders and makes others around them better, which in turn makes companies more productive and valued.”
Women in leadership roles can help an organization achieve higher productivity levels, gain a competitive market advantage, ensure stakeholder satisfaction, and build a socially responsible public image.
To find out how KnowledgeWorks Global Learning can help you empower the women in your workforce to be effective leaders and managers, please contact: Kelly.Lake@kwglobal.com.