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Five ways employers can help women identify as leaders

Following on from an earlier article, executive coach Geraldine Gallacher sets out how employers can support their female staff as they become the next leaders in their organisation.

Geraldine Gallacher

September 2019

My last article for London Accountant (Why don’t we have more female finance leaders?) asked why we don’t we have more female leaders in finance? So, I’ve outlined below what an employer needs to do, beyond traditional mentoring and leadership programmes, to address the invisible hurdles, setbacks and challenges to career progression that women encounter.

These include cultural assumptions, organisational structures, policy and practices that inadvertently benefit men while putting women at a disadvantage. Rather than seeking to “fix the women”, development programmes need to be part of an integrated approach to gender diversity.

Educate everyone about “second generation” gender bias 

The beliefs, practices and policy that unintentionally and unconsciously discriminate against women. For example, we expect a leader to be assertive, so women who behave in a collaborative way aren’t seen as leaders, while women who do act assertively are criticised for being aggressive.

Unless the entire organisation is alive to these invisible barriers they will continue, largely unnoticed, to erode women’s ability to see themselves as leaders. Second generation bias can often be found skulking in parental support and flexible work polices, and performance review practice.

Reverse mentor

Women mentored by men make more money, receive more promotions, and report greater satisfaction with their career progression. It gives them access to experiences and networks critical for a senior role.

Reverse mentoring enables senior management to learn from the women they mentor about what it is like to be a woman in the business. 

Give women a voice

Listen to women, not just the challenges they face but also their suggestions for what will improve things. This is useful for ideas and hugely empowering for women especially if asked to say what role they can play themselves in the solution.

Involve men as allies 

It is impossible to get and sustain more women in top jobs unless men are actively involved. Yes, they need to understand the challenges their female peers face but more fundamentally, company policy and practice must support them to share work and care responsibilities equally with their partner. 

Encourage women to find their north star 

Public speaking and having a point of view come easily since I found my purpose beyond self-promotion, which is anathema to me. Confidence grows when your interests and strengths collide. You’ll become clearer about following your North Star. Once that’s clear, others follow too.

Geraldine Gallacher is founder and MD of the Executive Coaching Consultancy

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