For every Ursula Burns, Indra Nooyi, Rosalind Brewer, and Mary Erdoes who makes it to the top of the corporate ladder, there are thousands of women struggling with the climb. In some corporate environments, women still carry the weight of traditional expectations, contradictions, and stereotypes. Executive coaching can be a valuable support system for some working women as they climb past those barriers – and learn to leverage the strength and insight they’ve gained from enduring them for so long.
A 2011 report released by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. concluded that “inadequate career development” has kept many women from reaching the top. Joanna Barsh, a senior partner at McKinsey and co-author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal that companies are not “systematically watching these women at the middle management level or putting them in programs that would help them develop and get over the next [promotion] hurdle.”
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We All Need Coaches
How does coaching help women clear those hurdles? The scarcity of female executives and leaders has created a dearth of role models for women rising through the ranks. There is often no one there to mentor, coach, train, or generally help them climb the corporate ladder. They can gain significant advantage from hiring an executive coach because they don’t get coaching in the workplace organically, as most male executives do.
A coach is a sounding board; adviser and guide who can fill that role and help women hone their skills and increase their confidence. Female coaches deserve to move up the ranks just like female executives – but in this case, I think having a male coach can be invaluable.
Women have to deal with life in a corporate world dominated by men. Having a confidant and mentor from that world gives them a significant advantage. They get the inside scoop on what male CEOs look for and react to, and how executives interact. This gives an invaluable perspective to women who are trying to navigate that world and deal with issues such as:
- The need to be respected. Women need to be respected as much as their male counterparts. Their ideas, opinions, and directives need to be given as much weight. A lot of the time, perceptions and stereotypes of women get in the way. Being perceived as being “too emotional” is just one. Coaching can help women learn not to bury their emotion, but to use it strategically and effectively.
- Owning the room. When a female executive walks in to take charge of a meeting, everyone in the room has to realize that she is the most powerful person in the room. Learning to take command and own the room with the presence of a leader is critical – for men, and for women.
- Work-life balance. Too often, if a woman has a family, the assumption on the part of her colleagues and subordinates is that the title of “Mom” overrides any other role they may have. They think Mom needs to leave at 5 p.m. to take care of the kids, or Mom might have to leave early for a pediatrician’s appointment, or arrive late because she drives the kids to daycare. A male executive who happens to be a father does not have those same expectations foisted upon him; it is something women have to deal with, whether it is true or not in their case.
Dispelling these notions, especially the idea that women are, perhaps, less dedicated to their careers because they have families, is incredibly challenging. Women not only have to find their own work-life balance, but they have to free themselves from the constraints others want to place on them. It’s easier said than done, but easier done with help.
We Need More Women At The Top
It is often at the middle-management and vice-presidential level that things get tough (or tougher) for women. “Corporate America has a ‘leaky’ talent pipeline,” the McKinsey report says. “At each transition up the management ranks, more women are left behind.” While all CEOs can – and do – benefit from coaching, it can be even more critical for women who want to move into these roles, and break through that next promotional barrier.
Sealing those leaks is imperative: companies with more women on their boards and in their executive suites are more successful, according to a Dow Jones report. Having women in the boardroom and corner offices is not only important; it is a must for organizations.