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How Organizations Can Better Support Women Leaders | Linkage’s Jennifer McCollum and Kristen Howe Share Key Takeaways

March 8, 2021 Deana LaFauci

On International Women’s Day, we recognize the accomplishments and contributions of women as part of our commitment to gender parity in our organizations and in our communities.

As we recognize this important day, women around the world—and the organizations that rely on them—also face a new reality, one harshly impacted by an unprecedented health crisis.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #Choose to Challenge: How will you help forge a gender-equal world?

“As the CEO of a company dedicated to changing the face of leadership, I’m concerned,” said Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage. “Decades of progress toward gender equity is on the line, as the ongoing public health crisis threatens one in four women who are considering opting out of the workforce. Now, it is more important than ever to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to the advancement of women leaders.”

McCollum recently sat down with Kristen Howe, Chief Product Officer, for a conversation about the state of women in the workplace.

“Organizations have to understand that the challenges for women in this COVID time are almost insurmountable,” said McCollum. “They have to give women the flexibility, they have to give them time out to focus on themselves, and they have to keep investing in women’s development.”

Watch the full interview here and check out key takeaways from McCollum and Howe’s conversation below.

 

Ways organizations can meaningfully support women at a critical time:

1. Recommit to women leaders right now—before it’s too late.

Organizations simply can’t afford to waste time, as the impact on women leaders is intense and ongoing.

“If there’s any time that we need to be doubling down on our commitment to women leaders, it’s now,” said McCollum. “We know from recent studies that women are twice as likely to be burned out, they are three times as likely to be sidelined in their careers, and they are dropping out of the workforce at much higher levels than men.”

As the pandemic continues, the disruptions to our daily lives and the weakening of support systems becomes more acute, and women are pushed out of hard-won professional advancement opportunities.

“What does that mean for our organizations?” asks McCollum. “We have spent decades focused on the advancement of women leaders (and organizations weren’t making very fast progress already!), and now the progress we have made threatens to be erased.”

If organizations rely on lagging indicators like retention rates to understand overall workforce trends, they will miss out on an important opportunity to preemptively act to create an environment where women can continue to choose to opt in. By looking to leading indicators, including engagement and women’s own perception of the workplace, organizations can gain access to in-the-moment data and act to mitigate the negative impact on women. Those actions include investing in women’s advancement opportunities directly and developing the organizational systems that support their advancement.

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2. Introduce new flexibility in the workplace and maintain that flexibility, even when the immediate impact of the health pandemic is over.

For years, organizations have been considering the benefits and detriments of a work-from-home or remote workforce. In February 2020, that transition happened fully and almost overnight, as organizations moved a majority of their corporate workforces to work from home to meet safety concerns. That was a massive shift in our daily lives, and immediately changed the ways we interact with our work and our colleagues.

At the same time, the personal stresses and burdens, particularly on women and especially on women of color, increased, as childcare, elder care, and navigating a changing world became a new reality.

The only way to successfully scale these hurdles was through meaningful flexibility in the workplace. Work schedules changed—including our working hours and how we make ourselves available to our colleagues.

“Organizations need to be more flexible with how work happens,” said Howe. “Organizations need to be flexible in their approach, letting women drive their own schedules.”

And, organizations and executive leaders should carry this flexibility forward, especially as we transition to a post-pandemic world.

“We’re no longer 8-5, and that’s all that matters,” said Howe. “What we do need to do is be flexible in how women work and take care of responsibilities at home.”

IN THE NEWS

 

3. Inclusion is the future of the workplace, and women leaders can help get us there.

According to a recent study from LeanIn, one in four women is thinking about downshifting her career or leaving the workforce entirely.

“This [trend] should be alarming for all of us,” said Howe. “We need these women in the workforce.”

That trend negatively impacts individual women in the workforce and the organizations they support—and it also has a significant impact on the cultures within our organizations. In a time when the business case and moral imperative for diversity and inclusion has never been stronger, women leaders represent an important advocate for inclusion.

“Women are the most inclusive leaders out there,” said Howe. “We have lots of research from Linkage that shows that women not only think of themselves as inclusive, but all their peers that rate them say they’re more inclusive than their male counterparts. Women are setting the standard for being inclusive in the workplace, and that’s the standard we need to strive for.”

IN THE NEWS

 

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

“The business case for the advancement of women leaders is so clear,” said McCollum. “We need women in the workforce, and we need them rising into more and more leadership roles. Organizations must double down on the investments they’re making in developing, engaging and retaining women.”

 

Linkage’s Advancing Women Leaders solution is a practical framework which enables organizations to attract, retain, develop and advance women leaders at all levels. It is based on three decades of work with more than a million leaders—and all our solutions are research based, which means they are optimized to deliver measurable and lasting impact.

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