Increasing Leadership Opportunities for Women

August 4, 2020

Increasing Leadership Opportunities for Women

Kathy Caprino, M.A., is on a mission to support the advancement of women in business around the globe. As a career and leadership coach, author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss and host of the Finding Brave podcast, Caprino uses her experience to bring out the potential in leaders and transform careers. 

HR People + Strategy: According to your research and experience, what are the power gaps for women leaders?

KC: In exploring professional women’s challenges for the past 10 years, and coaching thousands of mid- to high-level women around the world, what has emerged from my research are seven damaging "power gaps" that 98 percent of the women I’ve studied are experiencing. These power gaps prevent women from thriving and leading at the highest levels in their careers and achieving the professional success, reward and impact they want and deserve. 

The seven most damaging power gaps are:

  1. Not recognizing your special talents, abilities and accomplishments
  2. Communicating from fear, not strength
  3. Reluctance to ask for what you deserve
  4. Isolating from influential support
  5. Acquiescing instead of saying STOP to mistreatment
  6. Losing sight of your thrilling dream
  7. Allowing past trauma to shape and define you

The seven power gaps are remarkably common among women of all levels, industries and roles, and are prevalent (75 percent of women are experiencing at least three or more of these gaps at the same time) among corporate professionals, consultants, private practitioners and entrepreneurs alike. When we experience these power gaps, our ability to see ourselves bravely, as well as communicate, ask, connect, challenge and serve effectively and in an impactful way, is deeply compromised. And we’re unable to leverage our talents as fully as possible to be of service at the highest level and perform our best work.

I refer to these challenges as power gaps because they widen and stretch with time (like cracks in the road) that lead to a loss of what we need most to succeed in life—energy, positivity, confidence, clarity, commitment, connection and self-authority. The longer the gap is left unaddressed, the bigger it becomes, and the more our confidence, control and self-esteem leak out and diminish.

HRPS: How can women build skills to become better leaders?

KC: Women can become stronger leaders and build more rewarding careers of significance through consistent, committed and intentional bravery as well as access to internal and external power that leads them to take a different kind of action than ever before. Taking these power-boosting steps helps women become true agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of others. It takes courage and strength to embrace new, confidence-building opportunities and behaviors—to honor who we really are and long to be.

Ultimately, it’s our individual responsibility to take the reins on our careers to make the changes we need in order to thrive. The first step is to identify if you’re facing any of these seven gaps, and if so, take proactive measures to close these gaps.

HRPS: What are the ways that men can be allies for women?

KC: We need men to be not only allies for women, but advocates who take concrete action to advance women in the workplace. In a Forbes interview with Jeffery Halter on this issue, he shares that allies recognize the systemic and organizational issues that impact and often hold women and underrepresented people back at work, and they seek opportunities to get involved. They listen and find specific things they can do or influence and offer to partner with or mentor women. 

But what we need today are advocates who make intentional choices and act to advance women in the workplace. They are visible and open with their support and invite others to follow suit. In other words, allies are mentors, and advocates are sponsors. And from the important research of Sylvia Ann Hewlett and others, we know that while women have three times as many mentors, men have twice as many sponsors, and sponsors are those individuals that have the power, clout and influence to open doors for us that we cannot ourselves. 

HRPS: How can companies better support women in the leadership pipeline?

KC: Here are five important ways leaders and organizations can support women into the leadership pipeline more effectively:

  • Help employees celebrate their special talents, abilities and accomplishments. Teach all managers and those who lead others to incorporate new ways of recognizing and celebrating employees for their special talents and contributions, and helping them leverage their talents in new ways to grow. Point out these special contributions both privately and publicly and give others a chance to recognize each individual for what they uniquely contribute. 
  • Foster strong and assertive communication in all. Build a culture of trust and growth where both men and women can communicate from strength, not fear, and encourage employees to speak up authentically and openly about their opinions and ideas, and not be penalized for it. 
  • Create a structural process that allows employees to ask for what they want and deserve. Provide employees numerous opportunities throughout each year to explore with their managers what they want to do and create in their careers. Help them find avenues to ask for, and achieve, new growth in new ways that will expand their value and their skills. 
  • Forge avenues for influential mentorship and sponsorship support. Build a mentoring and sponsoring community within your organization and provide new opportunities for professionals to obtain influential guidance, support and help outside the organization.
  • Stand up and say STOP to all forms of mistreatment. Stand up and put a stop to all forms of mistreatment in its tracks. This includes gender bias and discrimination, pay inequity, sexual harassment, narcissistic behavior, toxic communication, emotional abuse and other forms of mistreatment. Remove perpetrators of abuse from the organization. Role model and enforce a no-tolerance policy and don’t waffle on this. Build avenues of communication and support for people who feel they are being mistreated or held back. 

HRPS: What are some ways women may have been hindered in their leadership journey?

KC: In a Forbes piece on “The Top 6 Reasons Women Aren’t Leading In Corporate America As We Need Them To,” I outline the factors that I see every day that hinder women on the path to leadership. Among the top factors are:

The differences between men and women are not fully understood or valued.
It’s an indisputable fact—women and men are different in many core ways, some grounded in their neurobiology and also in our societal and cultural training. We live in a patriarchal society where our concept of what masculine and feminine has been defined in a very rigid way that stunts the growth of both women and men. 

I’ve found, too, that in corporate America (which remains male-dominated at the leadership levels), the differences in women’s style, approach, communication, decision-making, leadership values and focus are not yet fully understood or valued. Many organizations still make women “wrong” (consciously or subconsciously) and marginalize them for their priorities and styles that clash with the dominant culture. 

Life, family and work priorities clash fiercely.
Women are still performing the majority of domestic and childcare responsibility in the home, even when they are the primary breadwinners, and this is even more so during the pandemic. As long as this dynamic remains, the clash of priorities women face will hinder their ability to commit to leadership growth in organizations in the same ways as men do. 

HRPS: What advice do you give to women just starting on the journey to becoming a braver and more powerful leader?

KC: The strongest bravery-boosting step one can take is to recognize if you’re facing any of seven damaging gaps and address those gaps that generate the most internal challenge, doubt or lack of confidence. Begin to take small, actionable steps to build your confidence, self-authority and self-trust. Take action unlike any action you’ve never taken before. 

Do the things that makes you think “If I can do that, I can do anything!” Learn how to speak up more bravely, and network “up” with key sponsors. Identify the 20 accomplishments and achievements that you’re most proud of, that moved the needle for your organization and made a big difference, and leverage those accomplishments. And learn how to talk about what you do well.

When women begin to address these seven key gaps more concretely and with intention and focus, and start to ask for, and seize, new opportunities that will advance their ultimate visions and goals, the momentum towards stronger leadership and more impactful contribution builds. 

The Authors: 

Kathy Caprino, M.A., is a career and leadership coach, author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, a Forbes senior contributor, and host of the Finding Brave podcast.