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Briefing Offers Guidelines to Re-energize Women’s Advancement

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Much has been written about how women have borne the brunt of COVID-19 workplace upheaval. So, there couldn’t be a better time for Boston College’s Center for Work and Family (BCCWF) to provide a framework for employers to redirect and reinvigorate their women’s career advancement efforts.

The center’s new executive briefing, “Women's Career Advancement Programs: Optimizing Efforts for Better Results,” provides a wealth of research and best practices, covering such areas as:

  • The latest data and trends on women in the workplace
  • The negative impact of COVID-19 on women’s workforce representation, disproportionate share of unpaid work, productivity and well-being
  • Gender bias and the case for diverse leadership
  • Strategic framework for women’s career advancement programs.

 “The disproportionate impact that the crisis is having on women’s careers — particularly for women of color — and the increasing attention to the way in which companies are reacting to issues of social justice has heightened the importance of the topic,” said Keila Vinas, Ed.D., the report’s lead author. “Having a tepid or disjointed approach to women’s advancement is not an option for progressive employers.”

The briefing outlines a four-point road map (see “Strategic Framework for Women’s Advancement”) with the authors contending that employers must develop a comprehensive strategy that incorporates each pillar, uses metrics to track their talent pipeline and addresses culture and bias throughout their organizations.

COVID-19 has exacerbated women’s underrepresentation in leadership roles in much of corporate America, said Pia Wilson-Body, president of the Intel Foundation and director of Global Women’s Programs at Intel Corp. “The effects have been alarming,” she said. “However, there is an opportunity for companies to take bold action and reimagine their women’s career advancement efforts to ensure we don’t lose ground toward gender equity.”

Wilson-Body pointed to Intel’s goals to double the number of women in senior roles (vice president and above) and increase representation of women in technical roles from the current 27% to 40% by 2030. The semiconductor giant can’t hit those numbers by hiring alone; the organization must identify and develop talent that’s already in its workforce, she said.

One tool Intel is using is the “Warm Line,” which is a confidential hotline designed to proactively address retention issues. More than 3,000 employees (out of a 110,000-member workforce) have used the program since 2016, she said, with 86% of employees who called the Warm Line deciding to stay at Intel.

“We want to be front-footed in addressing issues,” Wilson-Body said during an online panel discussion held in conjunction with BCCWF’s executive briefing. “We want to create solutions where women can thrive — not just survive.”

Much of that discussion centered on how women can show their value and advance in the corporate world.

“Speak up – make known your goals, skills and abilities,” said Charlotte Hawthorne, an adviser for Global Diversity & Inclusion with Eli Lilly & Co. “Be objective, not humble.”

And, don’t think you have to be the ideal candidate to apply for a promotion, she urged.

“You don’t have to check every box before applying for a position,” said Hawthorne, who worked her way up the ranks during a 30-plus year Lilly career. “If you check nine out of 10, go for it. Some men do that when they have one out of 10,” she added with a laugh.

Don’t be afraid to “move forward with wobbly knees,” she said. “The more you do it, the more confident you will become.”

Key “Women’s Career Advancement Programs” Recommendations

  • Begin with a clear understanding of where the gaps are in your pipeline
  • Avoid guesswork – listen to women’s needs and experiences
  • Pay attention to the influence of culture
  • Ensure leadership commitment
  • Develop cohesive women’s advancement strategy
  • Align women’s advancement efforts with strategic business objectives
  • Regularly communicate goals and metrics.

Strategic Framework for Women’s Advancement

Setting the Foundation: Organizational Culture

  • Understand the organization’s culture and women’s workplace experience
  • Mitigate unconscious bias
  • Engage men as allies

Preparing the Path: Talent Selection/Performance Management

  • De-biased talent identification processes and performance evaluations
  • Access to line experience/special assignments
  • Sponsorship

Navigating the Path: Leadership Development

  • Mentoring
  • Developmental networks
  • Leadership training/women-only training

Supporting the Path: Work-Life Supports

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Parental/family leave
  • Child/elder care benefits
  • Return-to-work programs

About the Author

Jim Fickess Bio Image

Jim Fickess writes and edits for WorldatWork.


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