Carol Geffner is a global management consultant and executive coach, and a Professor of the Practice of Governance and Management at the University of Southern California. She directs the Executive Master of Leadership Program at USC. Prior to joining USC, Geffner was a member of the C-Suite for Freedom Communications and was the founder and president of Newpoint Healthcare Advisors, LLC.
Below, Carol shares 5 key insights from her new book, Building a New Leadership Ladder: Transforming Male-Dominated Organizations to Support Women on the Rise. Listen to the audio version—read by Carol herself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. The commitment to support women has to start at the top.
Helping women and other diverse individuals advance through all levels of leadership is an issue of equity. If executive leadership decides that equity is a priority, then it’s essential to define what equity really means to that organization and why it’s so important. This kind of change has to affect every unit, department, and division. Change of this nature takes a long time and a sizable investment of resources.
This commitment to change must start at the top and must be unwavering and consistent. Change fatigue will set in and the investment appetite will be challenged down the road. Leaders who are serious about making a sustainable change will be tested, and they must hold strong. At about two and a half years into the process, the board, or another governance body, will start getting frustrated and want to cut back on expenditures. When this happens, it becomes extremely difficult, although essential, that the CEO prevails and continues to deepen the change initiative; a lot of change efforts fail because they stop mid-stream.
2. If you want change to stick, leaders must want it too.
For change to work, those in charge must have an appetite to analyze and overhaul policies, procedures, and practices. They must look at those that relate to all aspects of talent recruitment: hiring, performance management, promotions, transfers, succession planning, and training. This deep work is essential if there is to be a true commitment to rebuilding a foundation for women to not just get in the front door but advance through the ranks and into executive leadership.
“For change to work, those in charge must have an appetite to analyze and overhaul policies, procedures, and practices.”
You might also offer training on relevant topics such as discovering bias and leadership. However, the stickiness of change happens when policies, protocols, and practices are redesigned to meet the needs of the changing workforce and support an inclusive climate.
3. Change must be tracked and measured along the way.
Realistic and relevant metrics and scorecards need to be developed, implemented, and tracked multiple times a year. The measurement of progress must start at the “C-suite” and be implemented through every unit, department, and division—it’s a companywide process. On top of this, progress at every level should be visible across the business using posters, wall charts, and other easy-to-read visuals.
The executives and managers at all levels need to be held accountable for communicating, implementing, and driving results. For example, all hospitals in the U.S. are now measured on patient satisfaction. This is critical because their revenue is tied to increasing patient satisfaction scores. The best hospitals in the country are not only clear about what needs to be done to continuously improve but, throughout the hospital, there are large wall posters and placards that show detailed scores over time. In other words, there is transparency about what is being measured and how the organization is doing and this sends a strong message!
4. Tie incentive compensation to progress.
The incentives and progress offered by the organization should be connected to their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, which include the advancement and representation of women leaders. What do you think can happen when a manager’s bonus is tied to measurable progress? Imagine how seriously people would view a change initiative if their pay was attached to it and they were acknowledged for making a difference.
“At every level, managers had money, which translated to skin in the game.”
According to a Cornell study, offering a 1 percent bonus that is strongly linked to a job well done can improve job performance by almost 20 percent. When I was in the “C-suite” of a large entertainment and media organization, I introduced an organization-wide employee engagement (EE) survey, and every executive and all managers had a substantial percentage of their pay tied to organizational progress. The EE survey results were measured twice a year and communicated to all 10,000 employees. At every level, managers had money, which translated to skin in the game.
5. Women are exiting the workforce in staggering numbers.
The pandemic has led to large numbers of women leaving the workforce. Since February 2020, the labor force has lost over one million women. While there are a range of reasons why this has occurred, an important one is that women are often knocked off course, mid-career, due to the demands of raising a family. This is a contributing factor to the slow lack of advancement of women into senior and executive-level positions.
In this era of the Great Resignation, leaders have to be creative and open to work arrangements that meet a variety of needs and upend traditional practices. To retain great talent, and build environments that meet the essential needs of women, we have to build meaningful, structural support. This can include access to quality and affordable child care, flexible work schedules, and acknowledgment of managers who actively support the advancement of women leaders, as well as other diverse individuals. The workforce has fundamentally changed and organizations are being challenged to stretch beyond comfortable solutions and take a leadership position in supporting women on the rise.
To listen to the audio version read by author Carol Geffner, download the Next Big Idea App today: