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How to Promote More Women to Sales Leadership Roles

How Do I Promote More Women into Leadership?

Thanks for asking, because it does take a conscious effort (otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?). After I briefly give you some “whys,” I’ll share ideas on “hows” that I’ve learned over my 3 years with the amazing community of #GirlsClub.

Tiny-tiny bit of background and a brief disclaimer first: This is not scientifically nor academically backed research. I’ll cite an actual stat if I use it, but the rest is what I’ve gathered through surveys, group conversations, and 1:1 chats with our #GirlsClub community.

The #GirlsClub community is approximately 10,000+ women and men spanning the globe with nearly 50% of members in revenue-related roles. Only 13% of our community are rep-level, with over 70% at director and above. Company sizes are 1 to 100,000 and in every imaginable industry. They were drawn to #GirlsClub for our confidence-building curriculum, the management certification program, and the community of strong leaders intent on helping each other and solving this exact problem. 

Why Promote More Women? 

Harvard Business Review reports that companies with women in senior leadership have 35% higher Return on Equity, and the Catalyst Group reported that women score higher than men in leadership competencies. But even if someone’s simply clued you in that your top levels are lacking, take heart that helping more women promote to the top will also dramatically improve the women applying at entry-level (See our blog here about recruiting and hiring more women).

If you’ve Googled this because someone told you to go improve diversity, you might enjoy learning that women have been proven to hire more diverse teams. Therefore promoting several women this year is like planting diversity seeds for your future. I’ll stop short of boring you with all the statistics on why diverse teams have better employee engagement, results, etc. Smarter people have written about this. 

How To Promote More Women?

Promoting women is a sales vs. a marketing play. A job posting (marketing) is enough to fill the funnel with men. But women require a short conversation before applying (sales). This 1:1 touch allows us to solve for multiple barriers (perceived or real):

  1. Women will not apply unless they believe they can already do the job. Whereas men will apply if they perceive themselves to have 60% of the job requirements, women wait for 100%. How is this possible if they haven’t done the job before you ask? It isn’t. Your utter lack of female applicants should prove the point. A conversation will help explain that perfection is not required from day one, and that on the job learning, shadowing, coaching, HELP is available and expected. Want to read the study? Click here to read about the HP Confidence Gap.
  2. Women often perceive bias – even if none exists. If most of your current _____(insert promotion title here) are not women, it’s hard for us to comprehend that we have an equal shot. Remember, we don’t see the number who apply.
  3. Doubt. Although men also experience self doubt, it’s much more prevalent and arresting in women. I’ve watched first-hand as hundreds of mega-talented women doubt their ambition and skills when considering a promotion. A short meeting allows you to provide encouragement, and I can’t overstate how powerful this is. Try, “You do excellent work and I’d love it if you would consider management. I think you have what it takes to be a great leader here.“ Be ready for a few possible tears, she probably hasn’t heard this before, and it’s not what she’s saying in her head. Then stand back, because she may just take off like a rocket.
  4. Preparation. Yes, I find the stereotype to be absolutely true. Women tend to out-prepare men for meetings, job changes, vacations, interviews, and date nights. (Yup, totally scientific list.) The point is, we will not apply until we have done the research to know we really want the job, our resume is ready, and about ten other items on our mental checklist. Scheduling a short meeting with you, an incumbent, or future peer will allow her to ask you questions not covered in the job description.

I’ve found that approximately .5% of women who learn about the #GirlsClub management preparation program will convert and actually complete an application unassisted (marketing). When we speak to them 1:1 (sales) that number jumps to about 40%. Stop by her desk, call her cell phone. If you make 5 encouraging calls, I think you’ll see 2 applications. 

  1. Allow some job training (or at least shadowing) before the application. If you can grant us the understanding that as a gender we feel more confident when we’re better prepared – not just for the application and interview but the job itself – it stands to reason we would thrive with some pre-job training. Frankly, this is the secret sauce to #GirlsClub. By opening our doors to women aspiring to management, we’re helping them acquire the confidence and the skills before raising their hands. You can do this internally just as well. A few tips on how:
    1. If you’re already outsourcing management training (and if not, really. Have a word with yourself while you check out the curriculum we use in #GirlsClub here), add a few heads for bench building. These can be earned, application-based, or leader recommended.
    2. Be sure several women are included in each group. No minority group likes being an “only.” Set 3+ as a goal for every under-represented group.
    3. Start a club (and put someone else in charge). They can shadow managers, read books, and attend free webinars. No cost, no fuss, small time commitment to executive sponsor the lucky sap who owns the group. Tips: add mentors, a 6-month time commitment and small budget if possible.
    4. Have a woman in charge do a quarterly women’s group meeting about topics of her/their choice and even start a women’s Slack group. We’ve learned that women will only speak freely and an equal amount of time as men in groups where they have the super-majority. Give them a safe space.
  2. Final rapid-fire tips: Shorten the posted job requirements, include language that encourages application if all items aren’t met, and include brief language about how the decision is made. This will help eliminate doubt and bias in one brilliant move.

No item on this list should cost you more than a few hours of time this year. Perhaps you make the encouragement calls and then tap another leader to do the 1:1 info sessions or create the management club or outsource the management training. You may just find an awesome source of leadership right in your own backyard. 

Bonus tip: Raising young women? Start by freely discussing times we fail, stuff we learned by going for it before we were ready, and praising risk-taking. Hopefully by the time they’re in their late twenties this blog will be obsolete. 

If you’re still reading, you’re #GirlsClub Mentor material. We applaud your passion. Please apply to be part of our next cohort – it’s an amazing experience. 

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