5 tactics to cultivate a pipeline of qualified female executives

16 May 2016 Consultancy.uk

From the glass ceiling to the glass cliff, the advancement of women to senior management positions is an issue that has long been dissected, discussed and debated.

After slowly growing for decades, today the number of top women in the C-suites of America’s biggest corporations has stalled and remains substantially lower than the number of men. According to the 2015 CEO Success study by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, just 10 women were among the 359 incoming CEOs at the world’s 2,500 largest companies in 2015. At 2.8 percent, it was the lowest share since 2011.

Some strides are being made by the women who make it to the corner office. From 2004 to 2015, female CEOs were 28 percent more likely to be forced out than male CEOs. But in 2015, for the first time, the difference between men and women on this issue was not statistically significant. As someone with a real passion for advancing women in business, I find this encouraging.

If we want more women to rise through the ranks, we require a stronger pipeline of female talent behind the CEO. The reality is that despite the many programs created to facilitate the promotion of female leaders from the inside, women continue to be more likely than men to enter the CEO role when they are hired from the outside. From 2004 to 2015, 32 percent of women CEOs have been outsiders, compared with 23 percent of men.

Share of incoming women CEOs

There are many factors contributing to the absence of women in top positions, but together both companies and women themselves can help to close the leadership gap and fill the pipeline with female talent. Let’s examine approaches from each side of the issue.

Companies Building the Pipeline:
Companies looking to ensure they cultivate a robust pipeline of qualified women within their management ranks must focus on a variety of tactics:

1. Start at the top
Senior leaders set the tone. They model the values that will be adopted by the company as a whole. That’s why keeping talented women in the pipeline should be at the top of the agenda for CEOs and corporate board executives. Top leaders must lead by example with more diversity in their boardrooms and among the ranks of their senior leaders. Studies have shown that companies with higher percentages of women on their boards tend to have a higher-than-average number of women corporate officers.

2. Don’t forget the informal elements
Today, many companies have implemented formal programs designed to attract and retain women talent. Though the formal programs and announcements are important, initiatives must also be reinforced informally to affect lasting change. Simple gestures, such as publicly recognising the contributions of female leaders in your organisation during a meeting, can make a big difference.

Incoming and outgoing CEOs

3. Investigate what you’re doing well
Are women excelling in certain departments more than in others? Investigate what those departments are doing that others are not. At PwC, 50 percent of graduate hires are women but only 20 percent of network executive teams’ leadership are women. Whereas at PwC in Australia, females make up 40 percent of the board of partners. Determining what Australia is doing right gives us real insight into how we can bridge that gap in other sites.

4. Monitor the pipeline
The pipeline must be monitored consistently, starting at the entry level and going all the way to the leadership level. The entry level element is key because intervening late doesn’t work. Employees often leave companies when they are passed over for promotions. The likelihood that some organisations aren’t recognising the potential of internal women executives may cause them to be receptive to recruitment efforts for outside CEO positions.

5. Be open to hiring from the outside
It’s not hard to find women in entry and middle management levels. Yet far fewer are found at the top of the chain. While building a pipeline of women leaders from entry level up the ladder, companies should also be open to hiring experienced women from the outside to fill more senior roles.

Women in the Pipeline:
Efforts made by companies are only one piece of the puzzle. Women must also work to advance themselves in the workplace. Here are the top tips I offer to the women I mentor:

1. Proactively plan your path and flex along the way
You won’t find yourself in the C-suite by chance. Creating a plan of action for your own future career will help you focus on where you are heading and on acquiring the skills necessary to succeed. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish, then ask your employer what it takes to get there. Don’t think of a career path as a one-way road from which you can never divert. Instead, be flexible and regularly reassess your plan to see if you’re still on the best route.

Incoming women CEOs by industry

2. Ask confidently for what you need
Once you’ve determined your plan, ask for what you need to gain wider and broader experience within the business. Don’t assume that the decision makers know that you want an international assignment or to rotate in a role outside of your department. Be specific and direct in your request. Confidence makes all the difference. If the company is not willing to meet your needs, don’t be afraid to move.

3. Have an attitude of “I want to be here”
What will it take for you to want to stay and grow with the company? When you want something, you act in a different way. Want goes beyond basic physical needs and taps into the inner drive that motivates us to stay the course. Recognise that you don’t “need” this particular position and can find other jobs, but decide that you want to be right where you are. It’s a simple exercise that will change your attitude around your career.

4. Ask for the best mentors and sponsors?—?and use them
It’s no secret that mentors and sponsors play an important role in advocating for and facilitating career moves for recipients looking to get ahead. However, it’s not enough to have powerful players on your bench. Put them to work on your behalf.

5. Never lose who you really are
Companies want authentic leaders who they can trust. Unfortunately, many women feel they have to be one person at work and someone else at home. That’s too hard to sustain over the long term. Instead, focus on showcasing your strengths and your values while working on your development areas. By owning who you are, you will be better able to relate to and inspire others.

An article from DeAnne Aguirre, Senior Vice President at Strategy&, based in Based in San Francisco.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.