Women in Leadership: Finding the Right Workplace to Build a Successful Career

Sep 06, 2017

 Gender Equality in the Pursuit of Common Goals

Progressively-minded people around the world increasingly raise their voices in support of women’s rights, including the right to education and professional realization. Enabling women to work and earn a living is not only about gender equality; it’s also about leveraging women’s unique skills and perspectives to drive business success and societal advancement. Women in the workforce can often resolve issues, complete tasks, manage workflows and develop solutions in innovative ways that can considerably improve internal processes and/or enhance customer value. Also important, women can help their employers better address the needs of female customers, employees and partners. Empowered women in leadership roles are particularly well positioned to achieve these goals and contribute more significantly to their company’s success.

Job Statistics Reveal Uncomfortable Truths

Some of us have been fortunate to live in countries where gender equality is a common value, but there are still places around the world where women are denied the opportunity to learn and build successful careers. I’ve been privileged to build my career in countries where job skills and work ethic determine success irrespective of gender. I’ve also been fortunate to work for companies that reward based on merit rather than gender or other bias. However, even in the more liberal and socially advanced countries job statistics reveal that fewer women than men make it to the top of the career ladder. There are multiple factors that determine women’s ability to grow professionally. There is no recipe for success that fits all. But those of us who have learned from our own professional experiences have the responsibility to help others overcome gender bias in the workplace to achieve their personal best.

In many forward-thinking companies, HR policies increasingly encourage gender equality in new employee hiring. However, most companies reporting approximately 50-50 percent male-female ratio in the lower ranks, admit that the ratio drastically changes in the upper tiers of the corporate hierarchy. Executive gender bias is sometimes a critical factor in career advancement decisions. Perceptions of women as being less qualified or less able to handle work pressures can prevent women from receiving due promotion and reaching leadership positions.

It cannot be denied, however, that men and women often have different personal needs and life goals. Having children, for example, impacts women’s careers much more than men’s.  Work conditions often determine women’s ability to pursue leadership positions. Flexible work hours and the ability to work remotely, for example, are primary considerations for working moms.  Therefore, women sometimes make deliberate choices not to pursue career advancement due to lack of job flexibility or other factors that create undue hardship for women with children.

Frost & Sullivan for Growth and Leadership of Women at Work

Frost & Sullivan has set out to ensure that women in the company receive the same opportunities as men to achieve professional growth and help further company goals by joining the leadership ranks. I am proud to be part of a new company initiative named GLOW, which stands for Growth & Leadership of Women at Work.  GLOW’s vision is to “enable a talented community of individuals to thrive in an environment which harnesses and supports both internal and external growth”.  The GLOW team is looking to achieve a gender-diversified workforce which thrives internally at Frost & Sullivan and externally supports our clients’ businesses, as follows:

  • Growth: Career Development (coaching/mentoring, career planning, succession planning, talent development programs)
  • Leadership: Personal Development (networking, skills development) underpinned by HR policies (wellness, wellbeing, maternity, discretionary leave, flexible working) and a positive working culture which enables and encourages women to make a positive impact on the business
  • Targets will be defined to put women on track for positions in leadership

Alpa Shah, SVP, and Roberta Gamble, Partner and VP, both highly successful women and long-term Frost & Sullivan employees, are spearheading the GLOW program. I invited them to share their personal perspectives and experiences which they can leverage to help other women advance in their professional careers.

alpa.jpg roberta.jpg

Elka: What do you believe are some of the key skills that can help women succeed in business? Do you think professional qualifications, people skills or personality traits play an equal role in career advancement?

Alpa: Aside from meeting and exceeding the qualities needed for any given position, women need to be confident, speak up in a positive way, and always be part of the conversation in meetings. Being positive does not mean always agreeing; rather it means having evidence, being thoughtful and understanding many angles before offering an opposing view. Being modest is always good, but at the same time, women need to make sure that others are aware of their accomplishments and achievements. Beyond that, it depends on the corporate culture, a boss’s nature and each individual’s personality.  The key is to do the best you can, and have the self-assurance to find something else if an environment is not satisfactory and is unfair.

Roberta: Having a strong focus on your goals is an important first step, and recognizing that your colleagues all have the same goals and outcome in mind. Communication styles often differ between men and women and among people in general, but bringing the focus of a meeting or project back to that common goal is a good way to ensure everyone’s ideas of reaching those goals are addressed and weighed. I have observed that women, more so then men, hesitate on expressing views or bringing forth ideas, hence having that end-game focus can help both embolden someone to put forth their views and understand and incorporate others.  Women tend to be good team players and leveraging those skills of communication and bridge-building is important for any organization.

Elka: How has Frost & Sullivan enabled you to achieve leadership positions? What do you value the most about the Frost & Sullivan work environment as working women?

Alpa: Male or female, this company has always offered the opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial. Those who have the drive, energy, and business sense to generate revenues have been the ones to succeed. Client testimonials have been the best way to gain recognition within the company.

Roberta: Personally, I think the open culture that respects and celebrates our diversity and the accessibility of upper management has been a great experience for me. The company encourages new ideas and ways of generating business–it doesn’t matter who you are, what level or at what office around the world, if you have a great idea you can ready audience with upper management and ready recognition for your achievements.  

At a broader level, Frost & Sullivan’s flexibility on work schedules and locations is a big help for parents. I’m not a parent myself, but many people on my team are, and I’ve seen how they can grow and flourish in their careers while still retaining that critical work/life balance.

Elka: Why do you think it is particularly important to increase women participation in the general workforce as well as our own company’s demographic make-up? What do you think women bring to the table that makes them uniquely valuable to the companies they work for?

Alpa: Taking a blurb from my article, “It’s no secret that for a long time, men have made the majority of decisions on product design and production; sales and marketing; and R&D. This is true for everything from detergent to houses. However, the key buyers (or at least solid influencers) of the products and services being sold are often female.  Furthermore, technological advances and standardization are increasing competition across industries, making it difficult for companies to differentiate themselves. Another critical factor is that reaching the end user has become much more complex. Let’s not forget that the way people consume media has changed dramatically; there are too many distractions and advertising overload, making it challenging for companies to leave a lasting impression. Selling a product or service now requires innovative and creative thinking. Tapping into the female segment for talent not only provides organizations with a new perspective, it gives them an “inside” look into the thinking of people who make at least half of the purchases worldwide!”

Roberta:  As I mentioned earlier I think women tend to have a different communication and management style than men, one that emphasizes collaboration and consensus building.  But of course this is a broad generalization, and I think the greatest asset a company has is its workforce, hence ensuring that workforce is diverse, engaged and enthusiastic, and being able to recognize how different people can contribute positively to the team, is essential for being a strong and competitive market participant.

Elka: I’ve stated GLOW’s vision and objectives above. But what do you expect will be some of the most tangible outcomes from this program in the near term? How do you think the program will help us better serve our customers?

Alpa: We have already made formal HR policy changes, learned from an emotional quotient training session, had a successful “bring your child to work” day, put into a place a mentor program, and raised awareness around pitfalls for women and how to avoid them. These initiatives will help to improve our communications and corporate culture. We will monitor our success by keeping track of women's career paths and continuing to run annual independent workplace surveys.  We are also conducting research through interviews of companies around the globe for benchmarking as well as finding best practices. These metrics, benchmarks, and lessons will place us in an ideal position to help companies of all sizes better utilize their staff and improve employee motivation and drive.

Roberta:  Frost & Sullivan has done a great job over the years with accommodating flexible working conditions, but we haven’t always fully recognized potential leaders.  I don’t think women tend to demand the same level of visibility as men, and we don’t always see that talent unless it’s thrust in front of us as we all get so mired in the day-to-day activity.  GLOW is going to help teach those skills on how to promote yourself and take charge of your career, and it’s also going to help our organization overall learn to find and grow talent in broader ways.

Conclusion

It is important to note that professional advancement is first a personal choice and only then a matter of opportunity. Not everyone, man or woman, is equally career-oriented. Professional skills and qualifications represent another critical (and objective) factor for job success. Personal skills—communication skills, clarity of vision, perseverance, patience and so on—round out the broad spectrum of qualities required to succeed in any job environment. Lack of gender or any other bias in business decisions is very important, but is only one of many factors that can impact a woman’s professional development. Programs such as Frost & Sullivan’s GLOW aim to nurture and support talented women who are committed to succeed and able to pull others—men and women—along as they rise to leadership positions.


Elka Popova

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