Written by Cari Guittard, Principal, Global Engagement Partners; Professor of Global Management, Hult International Business School. Republished from the Huffington Post, original article can be found here

Enough of the Warm and Fuzzy

Women’s leadership is everywhere. Around the world and over the past few years, there have been numerous conferences, forums and events dedicated to advancing women in leadership. You hear about it regularly in the mainstream media and in almost every culture. Recruitment, retention and work-life balance are key concerns debated over and over. Public and private sectors (particularly in Europe where quotas are looming) are developing women’s leadership programs, partnerships and initiatives. Massive NGOs and think tanks are dedicating resources to studying and providing thought leadership in this space. And Women Leaders and Gender Parity was a leading theme at Davos this year. There is no shortage of conversation on topics pertaining to women’s leadership… but at this point, is anyone really saying anything new? With all the global attention, resources and energy focused on women’s leadership, the actual gains for women aspiring to lead are slow to surface and incremental at best. Though they may sound nice and be packaged beautifully, few of the efforts and initiatives are creating real engagement and lasting impact. Perhaps in 2013 we can collectively take a closer look at the women’s leadership movement, dig a little deeper and redirect some of the energy and resources away from “surface level, feel-good, warm and fuzzy efforts” to the real work that needs to be done to educate, encourage and inspire the next generation of female leaders.

My hope would be that this year, more of the efforts and resources will focus on the following issues that I am routinely asked about when I lead and facilitate dialogues in the Women’s Leadership space:

Women’s Leadership Wish List for 2013

1. More Women Leaders Capturing and Telling Their Own Stories

Role models as we all know are powerful and life-shaping — for both men and women. Role models imprint early on notions of what one can achieve and aspire to; they connote value, worth and power in a society. Though more and more women leaders are starting to emerge in the popular press, too few are taking the time to write and share their own stories and paths to leadership. Additionally, most of the coverage of women leaders is limited to those who have achieved leadership roles that men traditionally equate with success — C-Suite, high-profile board seats and high level government appointments. What if women at every level of the corporate ladder as well as those who lead in unconventional and often unrecognized ways — at home, in their communities, as an entrepreneur, within an NGO — began capturing and sharing their leadership stories? Imagine the impact that could have on the next generation…

2. Leadership Paths Focused on Strengths and Skills

Provide real opportunities for women at every stage to focus in on assessing, developing, honing and then leveraging relevant leadership strengths and skill sets. Men are socialized from a formative age to do this routinely so by the time they reach leadership positions, it is second nature to leverage and have confidence asserting their strengths. Women more often than not expend extraordinary amounts of energy and time trying to shore up our weaknesses rather than identifying and building up our strengths. This needs to change. There needs to be a serious investment of time and resources to explore and identify a potential leader’s strengths as well as time dedicated to developing and honing key leadership and management skills. And though much learning can be accomplished online in other disciplines, this is not the kind of work that can be outsourced with an online program or in a quick half day conference session. Many MBA schools are starting to appreciate this and, like the Women’s Leadership course I teach at the Hult International Business School in Dubai, are beginning to take the classroom to the boardrooms through tailored Executive Education programs. It’s a good start… we need more efforts like this available everywhere.

3. Women Focusing on Themselves for a Change — Increasing Personal Energy Reserves While Building Resiliency and Recovery Mechanisms

As McKinsey’s Centered Leadership Project explored, one needs tremendous reservoirs of energy to lead. Great leaders rarely lead all the time. They choose their moments to lead carefully and to full effect. It is impossible to lead all the time in every aspect of one’s life. And yet, I see women every day attempting to do just that to the point of complete mental and physical exhaustion. Having a global career, I have seen firsthand the burnout that results after years of flying through time zones and living out of a suitcase. It is why I purposely build recovery time into my schedule so I ensure that I don’t default to a burning the candle at both ends mentality. It is also why I have been obsessed with learning and sharing new tips and tools — collected from cultures around the world — to conserve and expend energy, techniques for developing mental and physical stamina, as well as unconventional approaches to long-term health and wellness. Leadership requires a commitment to taking care of oneself — something many women never take time to do as they are so busy doing for others — and honing the tools and techniques that will serve a leader at their core in times of stress and crisis.

4. Men Need to Be Part of the Conversation and Help Drive the Solutions

Last summer, I had eight brave men take my women’s leadership course at Hult in Dubai. Out of the 50+ MBA students in the class, I had hoped for more men to participate but knew it would be difficult as traditionally men feel exluded, rarely invited to participate in women’s leadership forums and if they are, are even less often encouraged to share their opinions and truly be part of the conversation. This needs to change. Men need to be in the room and integral participants in women’s leadership programs and events because many: a) sell and/or market to women, b) are in a position to manage, hire and promote women at work and c) often are married to women who work and are fathers with daughters. Whenever I’ve engaged men in a womens forum, I have routinely found them listening intently, and they are not shy when prompted by their female colleagues about sharing their perspectives and asking questions themselves. We need more men in the room when Women’s Leadership issues are debated and discussed. And we need more men who get it speaking out, sharing the stage and helping develop solutions.

And finally….

5. Measuring Impact — A Women’s Leadership Bulls**t Barometer

At the Oracle Women’s Leadership Summit last fall when Charlotte Beers was asked why so many women opted out at the mid-career level just at the time when they were poised to step into leadership roles, she replied, “Well, many of them just get tired of the bulls**t. We don’t like to talk about it but it’s the truth.”Much of the current discussions and forums around Women’s Leadership reinforce the layers of bulls**t rather than call it out. Much of the recurrent themes and circular conversations remind me of the enthusiasm that first surrounded the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement. Everyone wanted to host the forum, check the box, say they were doing something because CSR was the IN thing to do. It took years for CSR to really become a measurable part of the corporate eco-system and even now there are still many companies who don’t get it and do the bare minimum to support and engage with the communities and societies they impact.

In my ideal world there would be a Corporate Women’s Leadership Bulls**t Barometer that would factor in all elements of gender disparity — issues such as recruitment, retention, opportunities for development and advancement, equitable pay, promotions and flexible work schedules to accommodate care-givers, etc. Companies would be ranked on the Bull**t scale and the results published. Then we apply the barometer to governments and NGOs to create a transparent, competitive environment where institutions don’t just talk the Women’s Leadership talk, they walk the walk. Imagine what that might mean for future generations of women leaders.

Photo credit: Ruchira Agrawal 

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