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How to create a women’s development program

March 7, 2021 Advancing Diversity

Establishing a women’s development program is a fantastic way to support the personal and professional goals of the women in your workplace. 

But if you’ve never started one before, it may be overwhelming to figure out how to get this initiative off the ground. 

In this post, we’ll outline the steps to help you establish a women’s development program that works for your organization.

Why you should invest in a women’s development program 

Companies with more women in leadership positions perform better. Organizations that have the greatest representation of women board directors experience a higher return on investment, sales, and equity. As you might expect, these companies also report less of a gender pay gap, as well as improved productivity and performance. 

Despite the clear value of having a diverse workforce, women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions across organizations of all sizes. According to the Women in the Workplace Report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, women make up only 21% of Senior Vice President (SVP) roles and 20% of C-Suite roles. This challenge is particularly acute when it comes to women of color, with just 4% of SVP roles and 3% of C-Suite roles.

To overcome these obstacles, companies need to make sure women are supported in their careers and have the opportunity to take on more leadership positions. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with a women’s development program.

3 steps to create a women’s development program 

1. Identify the problem areas   

The first step is to identify if and where there’s a problem within the organization. To do this, collect relevant demographic data on promotions, attrition rates, and salaries at your company. Once you have access to this information, compare and contrast this data to national benchmarks from sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale, and Status Of Women In The States. This will help you better understand the unique challenges within your organization. 

We also encourage HR teams to conduct qualitative research to understand the perception of what’s happening within your organization – and compare those findings to what’s actually happening. All of this information will help you target where the problem areas are and focus your women’s development program on improving those specific points.

2. Tailor the leadership program for all levels

Armed with this data, you can start to build out a development program that speaks to the needs of the women in your organization. There are a few best practices to keep in mind during this process: 

Women don’t all want the same thing. There are many ways to attract, retain, and develop women in leadership at all levels. The path to success begins by understanding that all women do not want the same thing. One woman may have the goal of reaching a C-suite position while another may prefer to manage small teams. 

The most successful programs allow for individual goal setting. Given these different goals, your women’s development program needs to be flexible. For example, offering leadership coaching as part of your program allows women to establish and track progress on their own goals – instead of trying to fit their goals into a one-size-fits-all program.

Consider a 70/20/10 learning model. A program designed for lasting impact is based on a 70/20/10 model of learning: 70% challenging assignments (including opportunities to learn on the job), 20% other people, and 10% coursework and training. This formula offers women opportunities to learn and helps organizations create lasting cultural and behavioral change.

3. Create a dedicated support system for women 

Having a dedicated support network as part of your women’s development program can open doors for growth and advancement. A structured mentoring program, in particular, can help women develop critical skills, increase visibility among senior leaders, and prepare them for leadership roles. A study found that 38% of female employees (in companies that have at least 30% women on their board) who have exposure to senior mentors believe they’ll make it to the board themselves, compared to only 21% of women from companies under the 30% target.

Unfortunately, while 67% of women rate mentorship as highly important in career advancement, 63% report they’ve never had a mentor. This clearly indicates an opportunity for more organizations to incorporate mentoring as part of their women’s development programs.

With the right women’s development program in place – which can include a combination of mentoring, networking, and training opportunities – organizations can begin to balance their leadership teams with greater diversity. This investment in creating a culture that brings more women into leadership roles will be well worth the effort. 

To learn how to make leadership coaching and mentoring a part of your women’s development program, request a demo.