Some of my recent leadership development client work has shined some new light on gender diversity. Much of our time in leadership workshops is spent helping leaders who got recognized earlier in their careers as top-flight subject matter experts learn the softer capabilities needed to be a strong leader. This transition is one that great leaders need to make and it can be difficult. Perhaps especially difficult for women.
Sometimes stereotypes make great metaphors. We’ve all seen examples of males who willingly jump into the fray with an “I can do anything” attitude and females who, in contrast, need to solidify their knowledge base on a subject before they are ready to take the plunge. I’ve written about this challenge in the past and continue to see strong evidence of it.
Let me sum it up this way. Women work harder to ensure they really master a subject before holding themselves out as experts. C’mon guys, you know it’s true. We just brag a lot better. This contrast is all well and good in subject matter roles. The challenge for women is that in leadership roles, skills development comes only from acting. You can’t learn it in the books. Trouble is there are lots of leadership books and women are happy to keep studying while their male counterparts are getting experiential learning and advancing.
The answer is to provide women with leadership development workshops where they can see leadership behaviors explained and demonstrated. Then, they get to role play the behaviors with trained facilitators critiquing their progress. Finally, they commit to action plans showing how they will demonstrate the behaviors going forward in concrete ways, and they are supported in this activity by targeted coaching for several months.
Based on what we’re seeing in real situations, the results of this approach can be dramatic.