5 Approaches to Close your Leadership Gender Gap

Close your Leadership Gender Gap

Intel recently announced it will spend $300 million to increase its population of women and minorities. That’s a lot of money—“Why not simply spend it on focused hiring?” as one CEO recently said to me. He is generally considered an enlightened leader, so I was surprised that he thought that

  1. Hiring more women would be “simple,” and
  2. That it alone would be a solution.

Much has been written lately about women in technology leaving their companies and the field. Clearly, something needs to be done not only to hire more women, but to develop, reinforce and grow them so that their contributions are recognized and rewarded appropriately.

So what can a company do? Some ideas that cost less than $300 million include:

  1. “Blind Auditions”

In a 2012 Yale University study, Corinne Moss-Racusin et al sent resumes for a lab manager to male and female science faculty. The resumes, identical except half were for “John” and half for “Jennifer,” resulted in more interviews, more willingness to mentor, and higher hiring salaries for the male candidate—from both male and female faculty members. To combat this initial, subtle bias, companies can create the equivalent of “blind auditions” for musicians, where auditioners play behind a screen, so no one can tell what anyone looks like. Perhaps have all resumes initially reviewed with numbers assigned instead of names, giving “Jennifer” as good a chance as “John” to get that first interview. Moss-Racusin also found that teaching scientists about the study significantly reduced gender bias—so awareness training for managers can help.

  1. Encourage women to pursue promotions

While men apply for jobs when they have 60% of the qualifications, women tend to hold back unless they are 100% qualified. We all know that selection, much less job success, is rarely decided 100% by experience and formal qualifications. A candidate’s communication style, energy, and interpersonal skills play a large part in many selection decisions, especially for management or team leadership positions, where the ability to influence others is critical. And intelligent and motivated people learn quickly on the job. So, encourage women to apply for promotions even if they don’t think they have 100% of the requirements. And while we’re at it…

  1. Don’t try to “reproduce” the person who held the job

Develop job requirements that, instead of coming from the person who used to hold the position (for better or for worse), are built from the ground up, starting with demonstrable and objective success factors.

  1. Take care of your deep leadership bench

Identify high-potential emerging leaders, paying special attention to women…provide targeted leadership development tools and training, external coaching, internal mentors/sponsors (more on this in a subsequent post)

  1. Challenge your own biases

Studies have shown that men and women who engage in similarly assertive behavior are judged quite differently, with assertive men characterized as dynamic and strong, while assertive women are often judged as unpleasant and abrasive. When you find yourself feeling critical of the style or interpersonal skills of a woman, ask yourself, “Would I be more accepting of this behavior from a man?”

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