The challenges facing women in the workplace have been well-chronicled and continue to be a topic of interest among authors, executives and leaders worldwide. Compensation differentials, slower and limited promotional pathways, mommy-tracking and more have been written about and discussed for some time.
And yet, recent events, advances, and societal shifts may be conspiring to create a new landscape — one that’s more hospitable and supportive of career development and success for women today.
- The outcome of recent US elections with so many women being voted into office may telegraph shifting sensibilities.
- The #MeToo movement has challenged traditional power dynamics.
- Multiple studies confirm a positive correlation between strong female leadership and higher return on equity and other finance performance measures. Evolving requirements for female board representation highlight the importance of, and create the space for, more women to lead.
- Growing egalitarian approaches to parenting in some demographic segments have men sharing more of the child-rearing responsibilities that formerly fell predominately to women (perhaps introducing advancement hurdles for men similar to those women have traditionally faced).
- Today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous workplace demands agility, moving multiple activity streams forward concurrently, emotional intelligence, connecting and collaborating with others — qualities that come naturally to many women.
Leveraging today’s hospitable conditions
A recent study I conducted with more than 400 research subject suggests that women know exactly what they need to lean into today’s potentially more hospitable conditions — and how to grow, develop and achieve career success. Across the generational continuum, women hold a fairly common view of what’s required. In fact, the four age ranges studied (23-30, 31-38, 39-49 and 50+) share four of the five top critical success factors:
- Knowing yourself, your strengths, interests, values and opportunities for improvement
- Working in a culture that honors learning and development
- Receiving candid, helpful feedback and coaching
- Building a strong network
- Having a boss who’s genuinely interested in you and your growth
For leaders, the most notable takeaway from this study might be that women of all ages strongly agree with the importance of two key factors to career success:
- Knowing yourself, your strengths, interests, values and opportunities for improvement; and
- Receiving candid, helpful feedback and coaching.
Self-awareness is a woman’s superpower
These two synergistic critical success factors paint a powerful picture of what women of all ages believe they need to move ahead and succeed. They also offer actionable advice for leaders who want to support the women whom they lead toward greater engagement, satisfaction and achievement.
Fundamentally, the importance of these factors reveals that women realize the importance of self-awareness. They see it as the foundation of career success — and they recognize that achieving the necessary level of awareness is not a solitary endeavor but rather, a group effort. They appreciate that a deepening awareness of who they are, what they love, what they do and how they do it, and even the gaps in their capacity are the foundation for growth.
But the women within the study also appreciate that they possess a limited, one-dimensional view of themselves that must be confirmed, challenged and expanded through effective feedback and coaching.
These research findings should be powerful motivation for leaders committed to the growth of the women whom they lead. They should be an invitation to actively engage in career development. And there are countless ways to do that:
- Develop a career conversation cadence that includes frequent, short conversations. Be prepared with questions that help women consider and explore what comes easily, what’s most interesting, and where their struggles lie.
- Invite ongoing self-reflection and analysis during one-on-one meetings.
- Recognize contributions and effort generously as a way to help highlight and further cultivate key strengths.
- Offer opportunities and experiences that test interests and skills.
- Engage in conscious “contracting” with women about the kind of feedback they’ll welcome and how and when they can receive it most effectively.
- Encourage peer coaching and feedback, acknowledging that colleagues may have a clearer and more complete perspective than you.
We may be at an inflection point that offers new opportunities to women interested in greater career success. As a result, leaders are in a powerful position to leverage these hospitable conditions with the women whom they lead by facilitating greater self-awareness, feedback and coaching. And here’s the good news (and an equal opportunity angle): Building the capacity to do this with women also builds a capacity that supports the growth and development of all employees.
Additional interesting insights from the 2019 study
- The awareness of the criticality of mentorship appears to grow with age. The oldest age range is significantly more likely than the youngest one to believe that having a mentor or champion in the organization is important to achieving career success. This topic represents one of the rare cases within the study of a natural progression with age.
- People 50 and older see a stronger connection between the nature of the work and opportunities to grow and career success. They are significantly more likely than all others to believe that engaging in work that is satisfying, challenging and energizing is important to achieving career success.
- The two factors that all age groups agree have the least influence on career success include holding a particular role or title and pushing against the status quo and existing ways of doing things.
Want to learn even more about how women view career development today? Download the full research summary report here.
Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want,” You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.