More companies are proactively looking to expand female representation within leadership positions and placing a greater emphasis on ensuring proper representation at the executive level of companies. While the focus on equality at the top level is important, more can be done earlier in the career cycle to promote greater engagement among female employees, positioning them for leadership success now and into the future.
One helpful measure companies can consider is to use internal committees - including those focused on philanthropy, events and career development - as valuable training opportunities. Such committees can prove to be an important starting place for the company’s future leaders to develop their skills and gain experience.
Empowering female employees to embrace leadership roles early requires effort from both the employer and the employee. Here’s what each can do to promote success.
Where companies can start
In order for internal committees to be leveraged as leadership launch pads, it’s vital that companies promote a spirit of inclusion within these groups.
At CBIZ, we emphasize inclusivity by issuing company-wide calls for volunteers, encouraging the team at various levels to raise their hands to participate. Asking team members to be proactive in expressing their interest is an important first step in identifying the right individuals. Those who do raise their hands should be acknowledged and brought into an open dialogue with supervisors and HR. Opportunities can be flagged for them, and when committee leadership positions become available, department heads can work with HR to contact employees whose goals include taking on management responsibilities.
Encouraging these individuals early on is incredibly valuable from a company perspective. These team members will gain a broader skill set, while employers quickly learn which team members display initiative and adaptability. Further, empowering young leaders in all corners of the company leads to increased engagement and retention, especially at the entry and mid-level. These individuals are vital to a company’s long-term success and future planning.
How employees can drive success
While the company can proactively supply such committee leadership opportunities, the employees are the ones to drive the success. Younger team members should know that it’s never too early to start down the path to leadership, and I suggest that female employees join and lead internal committees early in their careers.
Embracing the opportunity internally comes down to two key components: starting and maintaining a conversation with supervisors and HR about goals and moving quickly to get involved. Speaking with decision and change-makers primes an empowered mindset, and individuals who participate in company committees gain valuable interdepartmental networking experience and exposure to colleagues and other areas of the company. However, jumping right into a leadership position might be intimidating, especially for someone who is new to the workforce. If that’s the case, there are other paths to leadership that are more approachable, such as co-leading with a more senior colleague to learn the ropes directly from a current leader.
Serving on internal committees can allow marketable skills to shine through that may not have been otherwise visible on a larger stage or taken years to develop. Showcasing such assets and learning leadership skills at an early stage can help steer young team members toward leadership positions down the road.
Established leaders must pay it forward
This brings me to the pivotal role established female leaders can play. I believe women who have reached executive positions should help raise up the next generation. That includes being receptive when they’re asked to be mentors, offering encouragement and advice and creating an environment that promotes plentiful opportunities for leadership progression.
The biggest impact established leaders can make is by influencing and promoting a company culture of diversity and inclusivity. They are in a position to create change and should be seeking ways to provide consistent and new opportunities for leadership.
Investing the time in cultivating young female talent internally will yield great benefits. As team members gain a broader skill set, employers quickly identify which team members are primed to take on leadership roles. Inspiring the next generation of female leaders is an ongoing journey, but for now, we can embrace the opportunities available to cultivate female leaders and ensure the talent pipeline is rich with experienced candidates.