How can HR encourage more female leaders?


Society is evolving at a rapid pace, as organizations finally wake up to the profitability of having a more diverse workforce. And yet – we’re still far off from the equality-based leadership structure that we should have. Women, despite making up 50% of the workforce, comprise just 25% of leadership roles.

“We need more women in leadership,” explained Colleen Neil, vice-president, career management at Right Management. “There needs to be conscious intent of including women – this comes down to building the desire and capability of decision makers to think diversely.”

And, from a management perspective, conscious inclusion should follow a certain path.

“Firstly, any change must be wholly authentic,” added Colleen. “Which means people need to believe it or it’s simply not going to happen. Having that inherent belief that women in leadership is possible is essential. The leadership team needs to own the process. This isn’t an initiative that can be delegated. For the commitment to be real it needs to be aligned to the business strategy, meaning change has to flow from the top and should be demonstrated by the company leaders.”

Essentially, HR can facilitate the inclusion process and support it – but it’s the C-Suite that has to own it.

Employers need to start ‘flipping the question’, according to Colleen. Instead of asking why they should do something, start asking why they shouldn’t.

“Instead of saying that a woman in a certain area of the business doesn’t have the experience to be in a leadership role, look at why she doesn’t have it. Assess at what needs to be done in order for her to gain that experience and enhance her own career.”

Succession planning is also an area ripe for huge development. Colleen told HRD Canada that employers need to be purposeful in their approach and ensure they have women on their succession plan. Look at what needs to be done to make sure female talent has the chance to even be included on that list of potential successors.

“We talk to clients about hiring people who value people,” continued Colleen. “These types of individuals are the ones who’ll understand how to optimize all of your human potential – and that

includes the female employees as well as the underrepresented groups. Success should be measured off the performance and the equality of the output – supporting people as they’re planning and managing their own careers.”

One thing Colleen claims to be seeing more of are career waves – rather than career ladders. “This involves coming into a company and picking up experience across a lot of sectors, rather than just one specialized function. Taking laterals assignments to add to their tool kits is a great way to encourage more female executive leadership.


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