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The Organization's Role in Developing Women Leaders


The question of how to get more women into leadership positions is being considered head-on across industries. While some well-meaning efforts have not achieved their desired effect, there is still much for executives to focus on as they consider staff development in their organizations.

First off, women's groups don't really work, or at the very least they tend to be perceived as isolating to women. And hiring to meet a quota without concurrently hiring for fit also doesn't work. What does work is being aware of the differences and issues at play when women are working on developing their careers.

For example, knowing that women tend to screen themselves out of opportunities before even applying (see article linked below for more on that), executives interested in a particular candidate should be sure to clearly communicate their interest. While women have to learn to go for it, "the other side is, the men have to encourage their colleagues, their staff, their wives, their daughters to go for it," says Meredith Thatcher, president of Thatcher Workplace Consulting. "That push has to be there. It's not just that women have to go for it, but that men have to learn to support."

Other strategies executives can use to try to get more women into leadership positions in facility management include mentoring and sponsoring, as well as avoiding falling into inaccurate gender-based assumptions.

Cross-gender sponsoring relationships can be difficult to navigate because they can come across as unseemly — a male senior executive taking a young female associate out for a networking lunch may raise speculation in a way that would be far less likely were it two men, says Joanne Cleaver, president of Wilson-Taylor Associates, a consulting firm focused on advancing women in business. This then results in it being easier for men to tap into the informal network in an industry and for women to lose out on opportunities to showcase their abilities so that they subsequently get set aside.

"It's easier for men to get clarity from other men, and it's easier for men to see a route that has been forged by other men," Cleaver says. "It's partly gender politics, partly cultural barriers. That's the moment when the industry and the employer needs to recognize those cultural barriers and be very explicit, clear, and consistent in how it does explain and outline these opportunities so that they're equally understandable and available to all."

And lastly, senior leaders can focus on not reflexively counting women out when they are considering whom they're going to invest in. It's highly unlikely that this is being done on a conscious level, but assumptions made about a woman and her career can alter what opportunities she's presented with.

"Oftentimes there are cultural expectations that discount the contribution or the availability or the willingness of women to advance to the next level," says Cleaver. For example, it is classically assumed that a man is available to travel as part of the duties or training for a new position. "If a woman has a family, it's assumed she won't travel," Cleaver says. "They're just quietly put aside because everyone makes assumptions. If you don't ask her, you don't know."

To read more about career development in facilities management, go here

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