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How Women’s Leadership Training Helps the Whole Organization

By Jan Arzooman

Creating a meaningful women’s leadership program, even for women not on a leadership track, is beneficial to everyone involved—women, men, and the company itself, women’s leadership development experts say. “It’s helpful and really important for companies to invest in the training. As we look at the consumers that we serve for most businesses, having women in leadership is important because over half of our consumers are women,” says Tonya Echols, PCC, CPA, executive coach and leadership consultant at Vigere and an American Management Association (AMA) instructor. “The more women that we are preparing to be leaders, the more that that attracts other people to know that, OK, this is an organization that welcomes women, that supports women to be in higher levels of leadership.”

Dedicated Women’s Leadership Training
“A focused effort on developing women allows women to take better advantage of the development opportunities,” says Barbara Zung, vice president and chief human resources officer at AMA. “Learning events dedicated solely to women allow them to learn from other women, share best practices, realize they may be struggling with the same issues they themselves are—and all of that in a safe environment, where they are not over-talked by men.”

“We know that women are facing unique challenges in the workplace,” says Lauren McNally, director of AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center. As women are promoted to the upper ranks, there tend to be fewer and fewer women around them. “You want women to feel comfortable within the organization,” she says, “so it’s really important that you have the resources there for women and that they have other women to look up to…for everyone to feel they belong.”

Extending Development Opportunities to All Women
Some women’s leadership efforts are focused on employees who already show great potential for moving up into leadership roles, Echols says. They tend to do very well at their regular job but need other skills such as executive presence or strategic thinking. Without such training, an employee who’s really good at her job can fail in a leadership role. “You want to find out what is needed for the people that you are trying to prepare for those higher levels of leadership,” she says.

That said, there are some basic skills needed, Echols points out, such as relationship building, strategic networking, influencing others, or strategic thinking. For women who aren’t sure they want to be leaders, general leadership development can help them too, both Echols and Zung say. “We don’t want to force anyone into leadership if they don’t want it,” Echols says. “But we want to give them the opportunity to at least start to see if there are things within leadership development that motivate them.”

"That’s why women’s initiatives are such a wonderful thing,” adds Zung. “Offering development for all women allows organizations to get to know women who may not have been identified as high-potentials, yet, when getting to know them better, start to shine.”

Better Earnings, Lower Liability
Echols notes that from a purely economic view, more diverse organizations perform better financially, and they have fewer issues around risk management and legal exposure “just because of that additional viewpoint that women bring into the conversation.” She acknowledges that this lower liability may stem from women’s tendency not to take risks as often as men do—but this is one of the items women’s leadership training hopes to improve. Diversity of all kinds, not just gender diversity, is important. “The more diverse that we can be, the better off all the organizations are,” Echols says. “That’s how companies really can thrive.”

Find out more about the Women’s Leadership Center at AMA.

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in American Management Association’s creative services/marketing department.

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