With this troubling year coming to an end, I am struck by how amazingly resilient, adaptable and success-focused both the women in our programs and the organizations that sponsor them have been.
As I look to 2021, it is clear that successful corporations across the country are not allowing COVID-19 to stall or reverse the development of their female talent. Rather, our numbers show that they are planning to continue, full speed ahead, with building a diverse talent pipeline.
What does moving forward successfully look like for women?
Since the pandemic started, we have had over 600 women attend our programs for both early- and mid-career female talent. As we fostered their development, encouraged them to interact with mentors and networks and involved their managers, we pinpointed three emerging strategies that earmarked success in these disruptive times:
Letting go of what was. As women take charge of their futures in an environment defined by uncertainty, they need to let go of nostalgia for the way things were. Of course, many of the tools and techniques that worked previously still work now. However, key strategies for advancement such as relationship building, visibility and risk taking have a totally different dynamic from when “a day at the office” was the norm. With an eye on their goals, women need to assess which behaviors and strategies they must shift to succeed in a remote business environment.
Developing empathetic leadership skills. Leading a team via remote platforms is a whole new ballgame and requires new skill sets. How do you keep the connections vibrant and “real” when you are not live and in-person? One key strategy is going beyond focusing on tasks and checking in to see how people are doing. Developing this empathetic leadership style in these complicated times allows the team leader to gain a real sense of what is going on with her people, and also motivates her team to honestly discuss personal and professional problems and opportunities.
Learning to effectively network from home. Since working remotely has become the norm, I continually get questions about how to network from home. Yes, it’s trickier, but it’s never been more important for development. It requires women to be intentional, to look for opportunities that weren’t there before, to find substitutes for elevator chats and water cooler encounters and to have the confidence to reach out remotely to career-advancing power players. Finding reasons to connect isn’t hard. but it takes time, just as it did pre-COVID-19.
What does moving forward successfully look like for organizations?
First and foremost, successful corporations realize that despite the pandemic, corporate growth continues to be buoyed by gender parity. Therefore, they are not taking a break from developing their female talent, especially in light of numerous reports indicating more women are, or will be, leaving corporate roles. Instead, savvy organizations are doubling down in a variety of ways. For example:
- They embrace the efficacy of remote development programs and sponsor participation by their female talent.
- They provide additional support and flexibility for women, who are more than ever balancing their personal and professional lives, often simultaneously. One of our corporate partners instituted a policy blocking any meetings for two full hours during lunchtime. It provides a needed chunk of time for those working from home to address family needs.
- They develop avenues for women to maintain and grow meaningful relationships with sponsors, mentors and networks.
- Starting at the highest levels, they communicate to the entire organization the continued importance of nurturing female talent.
- They place special emphasis on developing early-career talent, so they can have a long, successful track record of contributing to corporate goals.
I end my last column of 2020 with respect and gratitude to all who have refused to allow the past year to sideline the needed work of gender parity. The adaptability, the resilience and the tenacity of our corporate partners, the women in our programs and our WOMEN Unlimited associates have served as a major antidote to the disruptive surprises 2020 kept throwing at us. Thank you all.
Wishing everyone a healthy and successful 2021!