5 Ways Managers Can Support Women in Leadership Roles

Women in the workforce have been on a steady decline since the 1990s. Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, the number of working women dropped from 51.0% in 1990 to 46.9% in 2020. The responsibilities of child-rearing and remote learning were two contributing factors to why approximately 8 million women left or are planning on leaving their jobs to take care of their families, according to a survey conducted by Seramount. 

Women are natural-born leaders. “Women are able to efficiently disentangle verbal and non-verbal clues and pick up fast on problems that are brewing,” writes Binaifer Khanna, a contributor with HuffPost. She continues, “this ability helps them be good at controlling damage even before it occurs.” Studies confirm the benefits of these strong traits, with women making twice as much per investment dollar as men. Ultimately, companies succeed when they engage in diverse hiring practices and employment opportunities. 

Now more than ever, managers have a responsibility to support their female staff in a leadership capacity, whether they are just emerging in the workforce or have years of experience under their belt. If you’re a manager or someone in a supervisory position, here are 5 easy ways you can help support your female staff in the workplace: 

1. Encourage Them to Apply to Executive Roles

Every job listing has a set of required qualifications and soft skills. Unfortunately, many women fail to apply to these opportunities over the fear they’re not qualified. While a study by Hewlett Packard found that this reason was also commonly cited by men, men still applied to leadership roles even if they only met 60% of the qualifications. This is in contrast to women who felt like they would apply only if they met 100% of the qualifications listed on the job posting. 

So what can be done about this? First and foremost, you need to communicate the right message to your female staff. If you want more diversity in your workplace, you need to be transparent about not only what the position is looking for, but what concrete steps an employee can take to get there. Perhaps, this could come in the form of executive management training or other types of courses that can help elevate their career. Incentive programs like this can make a world of difference in driving confidence and developing new skills. One of the main problems with incentive programs, though, is that they may not be easily accessible to all staff, especially if they can’t always be in the office. You can combat this by making these incentive programs accessible and available to everyone, even after work hours or on weekends. 

Furthermore, women need to feel confident that their voices are heard and that their experience and skills are being utilized in the workplace. When you grant this opportunity, you can get a clearer idea of how their skills and experience can bring value to an executive position. 

2. Support Work-Life Balance

If the statistics provided above are any indicator, many women are torn between two worlds. With the shifting dynamic of the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership should work to promote a better work-life balance. The simplest way to do this is by focusing on an employee’s productivity rather than hours. 

More hours worked don’t necessarily translate to more tasks accomplished, which is why making the shift of prioritizing completed tasks over hours can have several major benefits. For you, as the manager, measuring productivity helps you understand your employee’s strengths, which can help make it easier to delegate future tasks. For women, however, this shift can help make them feel more valued. 

Women, oftentimes struggle with feelings of guilt. As demonstrated above, they’re caught between trying to be the best and be productive both at home and for their families, as well as the workplace. When life throws a wrench into the mix, it can make women feel like they have to choose between their careers and families. The problem with this is that this could create a disproportionate stigma that they aren’t dedicated to their careers, and as such, do not pursue leadership roles. 

By making the switch to productivity, you’re saying to your staff that you understand that they have a life outside of work and affirming that that’s okay as long as they get their work completed. This not only boosts employee retention rate but also increases happiness and productivity. This ultimately helps develop a positive workplace attitude.

3. Avoid Cliches, Stereotypes - and Watch Out for Terms Like “Bossy”

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In the workplace, men and women are sometimes viewed differently. Whereas a man may be described as authoritative and self-assured, a woman might be called “bossy” or “pushy” when negotiating a salary or promoting her ideas in either an interview or in a meeting. While this may have been brushed off in the past, modern society has taken notice of how these age-old cliches and stereotypes have negatively impacted female employees. 

As a manager, the best thing you can do is lead by example and avoid using this type of language. You should also be mindful of this type of chatter around the office, which can negatively impair an employee’s reputation. If you’re tempted to call a certain action or behavior “bossy,” ask yourself if you would think the same thing with everyone in the office, not just a singular employee. Supporting women to pursue leadership roles begins with examining existing biases that could hinder them. 

4. Encourage Women to Engage in Meetings

Many studies, such as those conducted by Catalyst, have shown that women tend to speak up far less than their male counterparts. The study from Catalyst found that 70% of the 1,100 women surveyed felt it was difficult to speak up during virtual calls with colleagues. With 16% percent of U.S. companies still operating remotely, managers have to do more than just providing an opportunity for women to speak; they have to genuinely listen to what they have to say. Ask follow-up questions that allow for elaboration. Ask for their ideas on new software, processes, and ways to improve existing systems. You also have to gather feedback on their responsibilities and keep an open mind when recommendations for improvement are made. 

If you’re a female manager looking to support your female colleagues, you can set the best example by being the one to speak up in meetings. Women, like all employees, need to have good role models. If you, as an executive, are sitting back and taking it, then it sends a negative message to your female colleagues that their opinions don’t matter. As a result, it makes them feel like there’s no point in sharing it. 

5. Share the Workload

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Far too often, women may be assigned administrative tasks such as sending a fax, taking notes, or making copies, even if it’s not their job. While this may sound harmless - and very well be harmless - in some circumstances such as broken equipment or because another employee has to leave early, it can send a negative message. Unfortunately, women tend to take on more work, even when in leadership roles because of this innate desire to help and act in a “caretaker” mode. 

As a manager, you can help combat this gender bias “housework” by distributing the workload evenly amongst all your staff, male and female employees included. By only assigning administrative tasks to your female employees and not the male employees, you’re sending a message of bias, even if it wasn’t your intention. This general “housework” can make women feel like their skills and experience aren’t valued, which in turn, can make them less likely to feel like they possess the soft and hard skills needed to pursue leadership roles. 

Supporting Women in the Workplace Benefits All, Not Just Some

Diversity in a workplace is important because it encourages new ideas. Companies benefit from different experiences and perspectives. Furthermore, you’re not limiting your company’s growth and profits by only employing or promoting employees who possess the same skills. Like mentioned before, women are natural-born leaders who are great collaborators and problem-solvers. These two qualities alone provide value in the workplace, especially in terms of conflict resolution and productivity. 

If you’re a manager, it’s more important than ever to support your female staff in their pursuit of leadership roles. Apply these tips today to help foster the female leaders of tomorrow and cultivate a workplace that promotes leading from the heart.

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Marla DiCarlo is an accomplished business consultant with more than 28 years of professional accounting experience. As co-owner and CEO of Raincatcher, she helps business owners get their business ready to sell so they find the best buyer and get paid the maximum value for their business. Marla has a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and is a member of several professional organizations.

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