Can You Have It All? Women’s Transition to Leadership

A summary of findings from 2019 research for a Henley Business School MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change

So what? Key recommendations
To have more women leaders, organisations and individuals need to act now to:
• give women the opportunity for early leadership responsibility. This will include support and validation from a wide range of other people, particularly sponsors, but also peers and their teams, as well as access to a coach at an early stage
• identify and give more profile to female leaders who can act as role models
• explicitly place more reliance on female values and definitions of success.
Why should we do this?
Despite decades-old legislation and organisational focus on equal opportunities for women, women are still significantly under-represented at senior levels in organisations. In 2018, McKinsey’s researchers found that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity in their executive team were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. Inevitably, having fewer female leaders has a detrimental effect on organisations’ overall gender pay gaps.
What is this about?
How organisations and individuals can assist women in their transition to leadership. It looks at what aids and hinders their journeys, including what identity shifts women experience on their way.
Based on Janet Hayes’s interviews with 17 women who have recently reached partner level in professional services, where Janet spent over 20 years working in senior Human Resource roles in PwC, Accenture and Arthur Andersen.
Summary of findings
The women identify various closely interlinked factors from all stages of their careers that affect their choices in their transition to the identity of leader. These include:
• other people
• organisation and family structures
• personal characteristics and their subjective perspectives.
Having early leadership responsibility seems to play a key role in building individuals’ sense of self-efficacy, which in turn fosters adaptability and resilience. Neuroscience and cumulative advantage theory support this finding.
Further steps
Janet can:
• present findings:
o internally to your Board, Women’s Networks or Learning & Development function
o to your clients/external networks
• advise leadership/HR functions about programmes to facilitate more women leaders
• run individual coaching and group facilitation sessions for aspiring leaders, especially women but relevant for men too
• run development sessions on how to have more women leaders and becoming a leader.