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What Are We Doing Wrong When It Comes to Promoting Women?

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What Are We Doing Wrong When It Comes to Promoting Women?

Most of our clients come to Borderless with a genuine desire to build diverse and diversity-capable leadership teams. That is, after all, our expertise. And at the top of their concern? Women in leadership.

With women representing more than 50% of the world’s population and a rapidly growing percentage of the most highly educated portion of the world’s employable talent, this focus is not a surprise. Companies paying attention are increasingly aware that creating a work environment where women leaders can advance, contribute and succeed is a vital competitive business advantage.

Nonetheless, despite often well-intentioned initiatives on women and their careers, many companies still fall short of their goals to promote and retain women in leadership positions and struggle to understand why. As you would imagine, the answer to this question is as varied as both the many women who are offered these opportunities and the environments in which such an offer is made.

Despite the complexities, and the lack of quick-fix answers, there is value in raising awareness around some of the more common issues that we see plaguing the advancement of talented women. In this spirit, we urge you to think about, ponder and explore these issues in the context of your own working environments.

Treat Women as Individuals

First of all, treat your promotable (female) executivesas individuals. We will start with an issue that should be readily apparent but often is not (even to women themselves). Women represent more than 50% of the world’s population. They are not a minority and they are as diverse as people can be. As a result, their reasons for accepting
and/or rejecting a promotional opportunity must always be negotiated and assessed individually.

This does not mean that women will not have some shared experiences, especially as it relates to their treatment within a given working environment. Such experiences, however, will not be because they are a homogenous group, but because the work
environment may treat them as they are. As such, if you are having problems promoting women, take a hard look at your working environment. The common threads preventing success are more likely to be in your work culture and environment than in the women themselves.

Moreover, do not confuse professional women’s issues as always being synonymous with working parent or caregiver issues. Twenty percent of professional women will not be a parent or caregiver. However, if the woman you are promoting is a parent or caregiver, working moms do share many issues and challenges that need to be
considered. But these issues are also quite relevant for all parents. In fact, these issues will be increasingly important to the younger generation of workers, both male and female, as parenting preferences and traditional gender roles continue to erode.

Flexible Terms

Secondly, signal a willingness to design terms, conditions and benefits for success. Within the context of any executive promotion negotiation, the terms and conditions should be designed to enable the candidate to succeed in the role. A standard package that has been designed for a traditional candidate may or may not be relevantly configured for your female candidate. For example, for a woman who is a working parent and whose spouse also has an executive position, covering (and paying for) caregiving and/or balancing or reducing travel requirements may be significant threshold issues to address before the candidate will commit to the demands of the new role.

Accordingly, to prevent women from just turning down positions as a result of these nontraditional considerations, it is important for companies to signal their willingness and commitment to have discussions about them in good faith and without future adverse
impact. This can be communicated in a variety of ways. For example, at the time the promotion offer is made, you can simply ask the candidate what she would need to be successful in the role and express your willingness to address and explore individual needs that may require adjustments.

You can also word a job description in such a way that invites alternative discussions on terms and conditions. For example, instead of saying “50% travel required,” you could say “Extensive travel may be required, but terms of travel to meet global demands can
be explored further.” Women are much less likely to self-disqualify if terms invite such openness to discussion. When invited to do so, we have seen female candidates have excellent alternative ideas for managing effectively.

Finally, when negotiating terms, women should not be unfairly burdened with the fear that they are creating a precedent for all women, unless such precedent considerations would also have been applicable to negotiations with male candidates.

Give Them Time

Thirdly, give your female candidates more time and support to consider a promotion offer. If a woman is being offered a promotion into an executive team that is (and has been) male-dominated and quite traditional, the task before her is daunting. She is not just considering accepting a new job with greater responsibilities, which on its own is a big decision. She is also often assessing her ability to be successful in doing so in an environment that is not designed for her, where there is little or no natural/social support, and where there are often unfairly high-performance expectations and no room for error.

Constantly proving yourself in such an environment is an exhausting undertaking and can also be quite lonely. (Notably, the same is true for any candidate that will find themselves in a minority situation within the executive team).

Women may also have non-traditional personal and family obligations to consider. For many, work and family life may currently be in a perfect, but quite fragile, balance with many ‘moving parts’ to consider. In such a circumstance, many women’s first instincts are to refuse such a promotion, especially if their perception of the new role is a misguided assumption that it will be more work being piled on them.

The reality is that executive promotions for women can often move them into a role where they will have much more control over how they work. It is the role just before that promotion that is often the worst in terms of workload and lack of control. This aspect of the promotion is often not fully appreciated or explored.

In such circumstances, it can be extremely helpful to use the services of a third-party consultant during deliberations and negotiations. Women considering promotions often need a safe place to voice their concerns, explore their needs and express their insecurities without undermining their executive voice and closely guarded credibility.

Tailored Support

At Borderless, we even recognized this as a need in our normal search and placement process, especially for female or minority hires, where they are placed into an environment where natural and social support may be lacking. In fact, we designed our Borderless 100 Days program with these challenges in mind, which allows us to provide continuing support for any placement during the first 100 Days in a candidate’s new role.

Our BorderlessWIN services (Women in Negotiation) enables us to provide such third-party support on a consulting basis for internal offers and promotion. The services are designed to increase the rate and success of our clients’ internal efforts to promote and support their high performing women into leadership roles. As you might have guessed, such services will need to be customized for each individual circumstance.

Are you enabling women in your organization to achieve their full potential?

Let me know your thoughts at rosalie.harrison@borderless.net.

Score a Workplace Win with These 5 Traits of Successful Athletes

When Tiger Woods thrilled the sports world by winning The Masters golf tournament, many golf experts and fans viewed his triumph as inspirational.

After all, the 43-year-old Woods demonstrated not just athletic skills, but also mental strength that allowed him to overcome declining physical prowess and years of adversity that included a sex scandal, divorce and numerous back and knee surgeries.

For high-performing athletes, that’s not so unusual because mental attitude is often critical to success in sports. But the same can be true in the workplace for those willing to learn from the practices of athletes and apply them in their own lives, says Grant Parr (www.gameperformance.com), a mental sports performance coach and the author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown.

The key, Parr says, is to be prepared when big opportunities arrive – sometimes unexpectedly, as it did for Woods.

“Many of the demands we face at work are not so different than those faced by high-caliber athletes,” Parr says.“The need for mental toughness in the face of chaos and adversity is similar.

“But what happens when a big moment is at hand, like a promotion, and people aren’t ready for it? What did they not do to be properly prepared? The world is filled with unexpected opportunities for greatness, and there are processes that athletes and people in all types of positions can execute to get prepared for that moment.”

Parr focuses on five areas where athletic examples can be applied toward readiness and success in the workplace:

Applying grit in the face of adversity. “Handling adversity starts with being flexible,” Parr says. “Take difficult people you have to deal with; you must be able to adapt and adjust, know when to let things roll off your back and when to stand your ground. Or when you’ve missed your sales quota, you lose key people, etc., the stress can be enormous. These are times you have to rely on your inner warrior and draw on your past examples of strong mental performance.” 

Turning crisis into opportunity. Some athletes are summoned to a bigger role because the performer in front of them is ineffective or hurt. “Can you see opportunity when everyone else sees uncertainty?” Parr asks. “When others react with fright, you can choose mental might.”

Embracing your role.  Every team requires people who fulfill their roles. Part of embracing your role is recognizing that the team’s needs are bigger than your own. “Rock your role, and people will notice,” Parr says. “But keep aspiring, studying the practices of those in higher roles, and you’ll be fully prepared for advancement when it comes.” 

Visualizing success. So critical to success in sports, visualizing success is just as vital in business. “See the performance as you wish it to go,” Parr says. “See yourself performing with energy and confidence; pump yourself up with positive talk.” 

Assuming leadership. “Doing your best, showing enthusiasm and trustworthiness help establish a culture that lifts everyone up,” Parr says. “Showing leadership when you don’t have a formal title allows you to develop the skills you’ll need when an opportunity arises and offers evidence you’re the one to fulfill that opportunity.”

“You may wait 10 or more years for a big opportunity, or it may come suddenly,” Parr says. “But if you’re not ready mentally, that opportunity will pass you by.”

About Grant Parr 

Grant Parr (www.gameperformance.com) is a mental sports performance coach and the author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown. Parr owns and runs GAMEFACE PERFORMANCE, a consulting firm that enhances mental skills for athletes and coaches. A recruiter and sales leader in the corporate world for 17 years, he now works with a wide variety of athletes including Olympians, professionals, collegians and high school athletes. His podcast, 90% Mental, provides a window into a broad range of athletes’ and coaches’ mental games and shares their insights around mental performance.