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Winning Strategies for Women Leaders

Over 200 women attended the panel discussion I co-facilitated with Dr. Lyne Desormeaux, SVP of Corporate Counseling Associates and Barbara Healy, Principal of Barbara Healy Associates at the Business Women’s Forum held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, CT on September 23, 2010. The interest in the topic, Winning Strategies for Women Leaders, was evident by the high energy and engagement of the women in the audience. They expressed some of the key challenges they are facing as women leaders:

  • Receiving less mentoring and few career opportunities than men

  • Being treated harder by women bosses

  • Sensing through subtle comments that the “Old Boy” network still exists

  • Missing out on relationship building happening during exclusively male social activities

  • Needing to worker harder than men to prove themselves as capable

  • Handling the majority of family responsibilities

During the panel discussion, we presented research on the continuing gap between men and women in pay equity and under representation of women at all levels of leadership as well as on boards. We also provided information on neurobiological, socio-cultural, and competency gender differences, and the impact on women’s leadership effectiveness and career advancement. It’s extremely important for women at all career stages and levels to be committed to their own professional development. Some of the professional development strategies that women can implement for themselves include:

  • Seeking feedback

  • Joining a women’s network

  • Asking for what they want

  • Seeking high visibility assignments

  • Finding mentors for advice and support

  • Finding sponsors for career advocacy and “air-cover”

  • Asking for an executive coach

More information on these and other development strategies for women can be found in the book Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations by Anna Marie Valerio and in the article Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women by Herminia Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter, and Christine Silva that appeared in the September, 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Tapping the wisdom of other women leaders is also a key development strategy to pursue. During the panel discussion, we presented a case study about a woman leader who was in a new high-level position and faced three major challenges 1) time management and work-life balance, 2) engaging employees and 3) building stakeholder relationships. The audience provided the following suggestions on how to coach this women leader:

1) Time Management and Work-Life Balance

  • Prioritize and use a planner for all activities, both work and life.

  • Delegate as much as possible.

  • Build a team at home, too; enlist family members to help.

  • Just say no; be selfish with time.

2) Engaging employees

  • Be visible and follow-up on promises.

  • Meet one-on-one if organization is small; meet with groups if it’s large.

  • Ask employees what they want and need.

  • Acknowledge and manage the change and employee’s fear of change carefully.

3) Building Stakeholder Relationships

  • Meet one-on-one.

  • Manage perceptions and use discretion when sharing personal information.

  • Be where the stakeholders are, even if it’s the golf course…

So, let’s keep the conversation going. Post your comments and questions about any of the challenges and suggestions described here, and any other challenges and suggestions you’d like to share.

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