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Stand up for women — the most undervalued and overlooked leaders

What great talent are you and your organization overlooking? Do better by the women in your organization.

5 min read


Stand up for women -- the most undervalued and overlooked leaders

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If you’ve been reading about corporate performance indexes and the factors that have true impact on an organization’s bottom line, you’re no doubt aware of the studies that definitively make the case for including women at the decision-making levels in any organization.

The benefits are both monetary and engagement-based: Companies with more women on boards perform better on average than those with few or none, and a high percentage of female employees tends to lead to higher levels of employee engagement and overall job satisfaction. So, what are you doing to make it happen?

In my corporate training, “The Invisible Leaders: How to Find Them and Let Them Shine,” the core focus is on finding and elevating the great hidden leaders in your organization. In addition to helping your unseen talent increase their visibility, manage perceptions and boost their influence, here’s how you can change processes and challenge norms to create a company that truly understands and utilizes the valuable women leadership already within.

1. Change the definition of leadership behavior

Start by acknowledging that diverse leadership requires a variety of perspectives, styles and approaches to be truly successful. Are the traditionally held “leadership traits” the only characteristics you seeking in your rising talent? Are those the only behaviors your company needs? Take time to reflect and determine if you are only noticing those who speak first, speak loudly or self-advocate the most strongly. Are you prioritizing stereotypically male behavior? You could be overlooking great women if your definition of leadership only includes those who are brash and bold. Do your potentials inspire great teamwork? Advocate for others? Acknowledge all good ideas? Shoulder the tough tasks and share the accolades?

Everyone in the organization will benefit if you take a hard look at what leadership can and should mean and start working toward a more cohesive and inclusive model. Both your bottom line and your satisfaction surveys will reflect your effort.

2. Set aside assumptions

When opportunities arise in your organization, don’t let yourself or others make assumptions about women on their behalf. Have you ever been party to a conversation where women candidates were considered — but ruled out — because they “wouldn’t want the job?” There are a lot of assumptions behind those kinds of statements, so try to break down what they are so you can help dispel those myths. Perhaps the job would require making unpopular decisions, have long hours or would involve a lot of travel. Well-meaning people might overlook or gatekeep women candidates because they have young children, family obligations or just a congenial consensus-building leadership style (aka “too nice.”) Men are rarely excluded from competition for the same reasons, so be sure you don’t let anyone in the room with you use those excuses to set aside talented potential women candidates when considering prospects and promotions.

Make sure women in your organization are being given the same chance to determine their fit with an opportunity on their own.

3. Create a path, not a position

Studies show that women who do gain positions in senior leadership, especially in male-dominated companies, are often penalized or seen as biased if they promote or advocate for other women in the organization — and they are also labeled as unhelpful or toxic to women if they don’t. To combat this no-win situation, we need to do two things.

First, promote more women so that no one is tasked with being the “token” woman at the top. Advocate strongly to fight the sentiment that the work of inclusivity is done if one woman (or a scant few) holds a position of leadership. Don’t stop until all levels of management are fully diverse. Second, make sure that you and your peers are mentoring and elevating talent regardless of gender. Set an example by mentoring people who are very different from you, whether in race, gender or leadership style. The broadening of perspectives around the table will benefit everyone.

What does standing up for women in leadership mean to you? Are the women in your organization energized, engaged and motivated? Think about the ways that you can advocate for the great talent in your organization and decide for how you’re going to make the case, long term. When all the evidence shows that both the company and the employees benefit, there’s no reason not to make every effort necessary to build a strong, diverse team at the top — just be sure you also put the policies and behaviors in place to make diversity a long-term priority.


Joel Garfinkle provides corporate training, webinars and keynotes. He is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., and the author of seven books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” He recently was hired by a company to train 75 women on how to be successful at the next level. With the tactics Garfinkle outlined, the organization was able to increase C-level diversity and implement a plan to ensure women continue to be promoted into positions of leadership. Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter and receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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