Many women are slow to recognize they are viewed as potential leaders by more senior executives in their companies. Thus, the precursor to the steps for moving women into leadership roles is to actually tell highly-valued female employees they are considered high-potential, and the company wants to invest in them and their careers. This will give those women more confidence to try new things, volunteer for a wider variety of assignments, promote themselves and their work, and speak up more regularly in meetings.
Consciously and actively engage high-potential female leaders by inviting them to meetings, webinars, zoom meetings, training, and other high-visibility events. Provide them opportunities to: 1) see, meet, and engage with other high-potential peers; and 2) meet more senior leaders by setting up informal breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and other meet-and-greet opportunities.
Treat leadership as a tangible skill that can be honed and improved. I consider leadership similar to traits—we are born with more or less inclination for taking on a leadership role. I have seen leadership show up on the playground. Young children may demonstrate leadership as early as three years old—far too early for any formal learning to have occurred. Thus, while we may have more or less skill as a leader, our inclinations to assume a leadership role may indeed begin quite early in our lives. To the extent leadership has a skill component, it is helpful to provide women with the training and development to hone their leadership abilities as early in their careers as possible.
Help promising women establish relationships and networks with which to attract a mentor and a sponsor. Her mentor will teach her how to thrive, play the game, and enhance her career potential. Her sponsor will give her a job or opportunity in which to demonstrate her knowledge, skills, and potential.
Enhance the visibility of role models by providing ongoing opportunities for women to see, hear, and meet successful women inside and outside of your organization. It is well documented that women and people of color appreciate having role models with whom they can identify and who help them see the possibilities.
Interactions and coaching sessions with successful women and men help high-potential females better chart their path to leadership. While the road less traveled is always an option, it is helpful to also understand the proven path to success—particularly for women and for women of color. Once again, a good mentor can provide coaching which helps determine when to take the proven path, and when taking a risk is the better option.
Combine soft and hard rewards to keep your high-potential female talent motivated. Hard rewards include salary, benefits, and perquisites. Soft rewards are more intangible and include invitations to exclusive events, opportunities for recognition, access to senior leaders, participation in high-visibility projects, and so on. A combination of both hard and soft rewards is necessary since salary is often fixed and potentially more inflexible, while soft rewards provide more opportunities for managerial discretion.
And finally, thank you in advance for any and all efforts you make to help move women into leadership roles!