The Career Success Equation and Why Women Aren’t Gaining Leadership Roles
The glaring dearth of women in leadership positions, both throughout Australia and the world, has been much documented in recent years, with calls to see the gender gap closed at the top levels of business and government. Although there has been much discussion, gender parity and diversity are still struggling to be achieved in the workforce. Women are underrepresented in the leadership pipeline and aren’t ascending to leadership roles at the same speed or with the same ruthlessness as their male counterparts. The promotion and development of talent and essential leadership skills for female employees needs to be a business priority of organisations, regardless of size.
Susan Colantuono, as the CEO of Leading Women – one of the world’s premier consulting firms for companies committed to closing the leadership gender gap – recognises and speaks on the importance of developing women leaders at every level. Previous AmCham Women in Leadership events have focused on how in order to accelerate women to the top of the leadership chain, they first need to develop their skills and advance themselves as they move through the pipeline.
Susan is vocal regarding the need for women to develop their business, strategic and financial expertise as they ascend the leadership pipeline. She says that executives look for these key skills when considering candidates for leading their business, and that often, this is the ‘missing 33%’ of the career success equation for women.
“[It’s] not because women don’t or can’t have business, strategic and financial acumen, but because very few women are clearly told how essential these skills are for reaching the top.” – Susan Colantuono
The essential skills of business, strategic and financial acumen are often left out of leadership training, as well as coaching and mentoring. There is a larger focus on interpersonal skills and how to enhance relationships and build your network. Susan thinks this notable absence of advice on how to build business, strategic and financial expertise is because most executives believe that it’s a given – that emerging leaders should already be equipped with this knowledge as they climb the ladder.
In reality, it’s something that is not talked about enough, yet is an essential part to being an effective leader. In order to take control and lead a company and its people, a leader needs to have detailed knowledge about the company’s strategic goals and plans, as well as its financial state. By having this knowledge, a leader can more confidently make decisions relating to the health of the business and importantly, lead more effectively.
Susan warns that placing the onus on women to solely develop these skills is dangerous. She says that a company must have ‘strategic alignment’, where all employees are aware of the company goals and are working together to achieve them. This not only relieves the pressure on leaders to manage everything themselves, but ensures that they are transferring these valuable skills on to middle management and potential emerging leaders.
Women need to discuss and work on how to attain these skills with their mentors, human resources department and business executives. They need to actively explore the business, strategic and financial sides of their companies and focus on effective strategy execution and achieving tangible outcomes. In turn, male leaders need to effect change in the workplace by taking steps towards more equal representation of women in leadership pipelines and by helping to develop essential leadership skills.
The 2016 ManpowerGroup report ‘7 Steps to Conscious Inclusion’ spoke on how established leaders need to focus on ‘encouraging and training women to take advantage of opportunities that will stretch and develop leadership strengths’ (ManpowerGroup, 2016). This fosters a culture of shared power that needs to be driven from the top in order to be effective. Having male champions of gender diversity and leadership development within an organisation shows that a company is serious about reversing the leadership gender gap and committed to helping develop female leaders.
Susan says that once you’ve decided you’re ready to ascend the leadership pipeline and work on developing your business acumen, there are certain steps you need to take:
- Work out how the area or division you manage contributes to cash generation, profitable growth, customer acquisition and return, and draw a line from where you work to the key business outcomes of your organisation
- Learn the difference between activities, results and outcomes – and drive for outcomes
- Learn how to talk to your boss, colleagues and potential employers about how your leadership contributes to achieving business outcomes (Susan Colantuono, n.d.).
Susan will be presenting to AmCham Sydney on Thursday 9 March, discussing Career Success and the Missing 33%. Don’t miss your place at this essential event. Book your spot here today.
This article was written by Katie Harris, Event Manager at the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia and member of the NSW Women in Leadership Committee.