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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Case for Developing Women

Throughout my career, I have been fascinated by organizations that want to achieve greater parity in the workplace by focusing on the development of women. As a senior executive at Menttium, the nation’s leader in corporate mentoring programs, I closely observed Fortune 500 companies that were eager to invest in developing initiatives so that they could recruit and retain the best and brightest female employees. Then, as a volunteer contributor to Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum (WOLF program), I watched Julie Gilbert Newrai create a globally magnetic and innovative concept that nurtured women and ensured that their voices would be heard.

The idea of developing high-potential women is more than intriguing good will: there’s a powerful business case for it. Companies that hire and retain more women actually gain a competitive advantage. These companies will be able to draw from a larger leadership pool when a talent shortage arises.

By developing “their best hidden asset,” the companies that promote women into the senior ranks also reap the benefit of improved financial performance, as reported by McKinsey & Company in their work of research, Women Matter. The 2007 study demonstrated a link between the presence of women in corporate management and companies’ organizational and financial performance. McKinsey’s research* consistently suggests that achieving gender parity can have positive implications on profit.

In making a convincing business case for developing women, it isn’t enough to focus only on recruiting. The most successful companies invest in developing their existing women employees as well. Women’s development programs provide female employees with the skills and networks they need to navigate corporate environments successfully. There is strong evidence that executive coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs do more than strengthen professional abilities: women are also more likely to stay with a company that invests in their growth and advancement.

Focusing on women’s development is a bottom-line issue. By comparison, investing in the development of women is less costly than re-recruiting to replace the high-potential talent that leaves a company when they feel underdeveloped and undervalued. According to a 2012 article in Diversity Executive, “women leave their jobs, often without naming the cause, because they are disengaged. They often don’t feel fully valued, don’t have access to the formal and informal networks critical to their advancement and don’t get adequate mentorship or feel they can succeed.”

Nearly 20 years ago when I joined Menttium, diversity and women’s leadership were as much a corporate performance driver as they are today. However, today’s research findings dig a little bit deeper and give valid reasons why companies with higher numbers of women in management have the advantage: they have higher scores on leadership behaviors and key organizational dimensions like employee motivation, innovation, work environment and accountability. On the average, the companies that ranked higher on these criteria tended to have higher operating margins as well. Developing women leaders is clearly good for business.

High-performing companies focus on women’s leadership development. It may be my passion but it is also reality in achieving potential. What is your company doing to strengthen its pipeline of talented women? Recruit, develop and retain—that’s the trilogy for success. JD Coaching & Consulting is an organization development firm that helps nonprofit and executive leaders—men and women—and their teams and key contributors to improve performance. What role are women playing in your organization? Let’s chat.

* “A business case for women,” The McKinsey Quarterly, September 2008 
“Centered leadership: How talented women thrive,” The McKinsey Quarterly. No. 4, 2008“ 
“Unlocking the full potential of women in the U.S. economy,” McKinsey & Company, 2011
“Women Matter: Female leadership, a competitive edge for the future,” McKinsey & Company, 2008 
“Women Matter 2012: Making the Breakthrough,” McKinsey & Company, March 2012  
“Why Do Women Leave Jobs More Than Men?” Diversity Executive, June 2012

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