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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.

women leaders

Women Leaders Bring Diversity to Tech Companies

We need more women leaders in technology companies. Having personally experienced gender bias during my career, it’s hard for me to say this because the last thing I want to do is advocate for bias of any kind. The goal should always be to hire the best person for the job, and I don’t think having an x or y chromosome has anything to do with that.

However, when you look at the makeup of the workforce today, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than we need more gender diversity in leadership. Making a conscious effort to find and elevate qualified women, especially in tech finance roles, is a good place to start.

Women hold more than half of the accounting and auditing positions in the U.S., but just 12.5 percent of CFO positions in Fortune 500 companies, and only 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies. The need in the tech industry is acute.

Valuable qualities

Despite the scarcity of women in leadership roles, there’s no shortage of research on how women leaders are enabling businesses perform better across a wide variety of metrics. Why is that? What are women leaders bringing to the table that’s helping them drive better performance?

I think there’s an argument to be made that those who have experienced bias—be they women or any other underrepresented group—are likely to have developed some distinctive qualities in response. Some of these qualities are particularly valuable in a finance leadership role in a tech company.

Strong financial leadership is every bit as critical to a fledgling tech company as engineering, sales, or operations. One of the most important things finance does in an organization is use data and analysis to help business leaders see things they might not see otherwise. These are the folks who keep you grounded in the world of reality, instead of the world of hope and hype. Timely, accurate, unbiased financial information is important to understand the realities of your business and make changes quickly.

Finance becomes even more critical as your business grows and founders are not involved in every funding meeting or sales call. The finance team needs to step in and apply data and analysis to operating, sales, and business development decisions.

Trial by bias

I think there are four qualities that make someone really good at finance; the ability to listen and learn in an unbiased way, to look at things from a lot of different perspectives, to stay calm in stressful situations, and to withhold a bias from analysis.

The biggest challenge to overcoming bias is ourselves. Most of us are unaware of what our biases are and may even see ourselves as unbiased, which of course is not the case. We all have biases. I believe people who’ve personally experienced bias are more aware it exists, even in themselves, and are better equipped to guard against bias creeping into their thought processes. If you haven’t had a lot of experiences with bias, it’s less likely you’re going to recognize it when it’s happening.

Women in finance, tech, or fintech witness plenty of bias. We are almost always greatly outnumbered by men wherever we go. In such settings, I am often aware that not only does the group perspective differ from my own, but that it also comes as a surprise to the rest of the group that anyone would see things differently.

In these situations, it can be very challenging to offer a differing opinion. You have to have courage, your facts down cold, and do a good job of listening and understanding other perspectives. All while acknowledging you’ve considered other points of view as you articulate your own. These are great qualities for a finance leader to have.

People who rise from groups experiencing systemic bias have excelled in the face of greater challenges. It’s a kind of trial by fire. They’re often high achievers, because succeeding under those circumstances takes more determination. You have to be so good that you simply cannot be ignored.

Twice as good

One study of applicants to fellowship programs in biomedical sciences found women had to be 2.5 times more productive than the men to be seen as equally competent. A 2015 paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research found black workers get extra scrutiny from bosses, often leading to worse performance reviews, lower wages, and job loss.

So, if you’re considering hiring a candidate from a group that has experienced bias, recognize the person sitting in front of you may have had to work harder, overcome more obstacles, and achieved quite a bit more just to be in contention for that leadership role.

I’m not saying the qualities that make for a successful tech finance leader are exclusive to women, or that all women possess them. Also, women are not the only group we should be making efforts to elevate. But they are the largest group, encompassing a whole range of demographic, experiential, and cognitive diversity, making them a damn good place to start.

If companies want to innovate and differentiate, they need to start thinking differently about their workforce. Challenge your ideas about how leaders look, speak, and act. Focus on the qualities that make a person good in a role. Just about every industry claims to be facing a talent shortage, but there are large pools of talent right under their noses that are simply being omitted. In the hunt for the next generation of talent, overlooking large segments of the population is going to catch up with you. I’m betting on it.

Karla Friede is co-founder and CEO of Nvoicepay, the leader in payment automation software for the enterprise

Railinc CIO Shares Success Tips for Aspiring Female Leaders

Joan Smemoe brings a fresh approach to breaking the barriers for women’s success in the fields of technology, rail, software development, and computer science engineering. Smemoe started her career with Railinc in 2006 as a senior software engineer, polishing her skills in leadership as she spearheaded application engineering as Railinc director of the department. In June 2018, Smemoe was appointed the company’s Chief Information Officer as well as the Vice President of Information Technology. She attributes her success to an environment that supports diversity – regardless of gender, in addition to a strong team of mentors that helped guide her career success.

“The big takeaway is having a reliable and robust succession planning. This is vital to minimize disruption and impact to an organization, and of course made my life very easy,” Smemoe explained. “Railinc leadership is really big about succession planning. I was put on the successor path for 3 plus years and I had the CEO as a very close mentor. When I was preparing for my new role as CIO, my predecessor also provided robust mentorship, so I was learning closely with senior leadership and preparing myself. Additionally, I gained a lot of trust and support along the way from my peers because they all knew that at the end of my boss’s retirement, I would be the designated CIO.”

When leading her team, Smemoe focuses on the bigger picture, including both short-term and long-term goals in strategies, especially when integrating automation and technology solutions into operations.  She doesn’t believe in a “one size fits all” strategy when it comes to solutions development and advocates for all technology leaders to evaluate customer and company needs and how current and future employees can provide the best form of support.

“It really requires people to be more flexible, meaning that as developers they may have the core competency in software development while they’re also wearing the hat of understanding business process, customer needs, as well as IT infrastructure,” Smemoe explained. “When looking for talent, the candidates have to be willing to go outside their core skill set and pick up some other competencies. That’s the key to make sure your automation integration is successful.”

Smemoe’s advice to her female peers and women in the industry is to never give up and break through the glass ceiling mentality.

“Sometimes I feel like it’s a little bit of a self-imposed limitation for women. I think it’s very important to continue telling success stories and building that confidence. As long as you continue to show your ability to execute , have good ideas, and demonstrate technical compentency, your result and talents will be recognized.”