Clearing the runway for women in your organization

Here are six ways to support women who want to grow within their organization.

Q: As a talent manager, how do I help women grow within my organization? Do you have some specific steps I can take?

A: As a manager, you’ve probably heard the rhetoric around “supporting women in the workplace” many times – but I’ve found that, all too often, there aren’t a lot of tangible action items that come along with that broad, sweeping statement. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to use your power and position to clear the runway for women in your organization to gain visibility and acceptance and be supportive as you offer this.

Saying you support the women on your team is one thing, but taking action is another, more powerful, way to demonstrate that support. These are the six things I always suggest to any manager looking to clear the runway for, and offer support to, women who want to grow within their organization.

  1. Highlight and communicate

Two recent surveys cited in Current Psychology found that, while women may believe themselves to be just as competent as their male counterparts in the workplace, they are more likely to perceive themselves as less competent than they actually are. For that reason, managers must highlight and communicate their female team members’ best talents and capabilities.

Sure, critical feedback is important for growth, but there’s a lot to be said for making yourself a mirror of your employees’ best attributes too. By highlighting the value these women are bringing to the table through their talents and contributions, you’re not only encouraging them to bring their best work to the table – you’re also helping them set a path for future growth. They know their strengths – and now they can better play to them as they advance through their career.

  1. Provide profit and loss opportunities

Far too often, women are relegated to support roles instead of profit and loss (P&L) roles, or roles that enable them to bring in and build value for their organization, rather than support other people as they do so. As a manager, you’re in the position to look for opportunities to move women into positions where they can be visible within your organization within critical P&L roles.

There are many women, especially women who feel the demand of their personal life and external commitments, who may look at this type of role as one that could throw their life into a tailspin. “After all,” many of them think, “men who accept these roles can work 24/7, but I have small children at home and I need to care for my family.” But managers have the power to reset those expectations and say, “I don’t expect you to perform the role the way a man would. I expect you to do this role the way you think it needs to be done while also being able to still manage your life.”

By setting the standard that all you need is for women in P&L roles to create meaningful impact within your organization, you’re giving them the freedom to design a role that allows them to achieve the results they need in a way that works for them.

  1. Allow them to broaden their horizons

In addition to keeping an eye out for P&L roles, look for opportunities to broaden women’s experiences in and understanding of the business as a whole – which will prepare them for more senior roles. There’s often a trend of men being given opportunities to experience a broad swath of business-related roles while women are shoehorned into one area. As a manager, you can help make sure that’s not the case.

If a woman came into an engineering role, are there ways she could work cross-functionally with sales or marketing? If she’s in a marketing role, how could she work with production or design teams? Providing women with opportunities to get a more holistic view of your organization will ensure she has the knowledge and connections needed to move into senior roles where cross-functional work – and experience – is required.

  1. Manage the naysayers

I once spoke with a woman who was the first woman ever to hold her role. She had a team of all men reporting to her, and, one by one, every man went to her manager and said they didn’t want to work for her because “she doesn’t know anything about what we do.” That manager chose to do what I tell every manager to do: asked all those men to give their new lead a try for two months.

As a manager, your stamp of approval and your endorsement matter. Use your position and power to back women and allow other people to see them as the effective leader you know they can be. When we talk about inclusion, it’s not just about putting someone in a role. It’s also about making space for them to be effective, including ensuring everyone else gives them that space too.

  1. Let them go

There will come a time when, thanks to your mentorship and efforts to elevate, the women you’ve helped to grow within your organization will move on and into other roles. While it can be challenging to let them go, you will always be the person who was able to support them on a path to greater opportunities. Trust me, at the end of the day nothing is more rewarding than that.