Women’s Great Resignation: Ways To Retain Women Leaders

As women continue to consider exiting the workforce, the question on their minds is: Does my workplace work for me? While many organizations are attempting to redress the inequities women face, there are plenty of new policies and actions that have served to undermine women’s certainty that they belong. Let’s discuss a few examples and positive ways to retain women leaders.

1. Be thoughtful with mentoring pairings.

Consider a leader who would like to increase her assertiveness. Like anyone who is working on this, she appreciates that it has an impact on her relationships and how she is perceived. It takes experimentation to express assertive behaviours to the right degree. Too little, and you aren’t standing up for yourself and expressing yourself sufficiently, too much and you’re perceived as hostile. In an effort to help, a more senior leader selects a mentor for her who is overly assertive. She and others perceive him as aggressive. The thinking behind the match was that pairing a leader who overdoes a vital competency with someone who underutilizes it would work. Instead, it sends the wrong message and creates confusion for the mentee who is looking to find the right level of assertiveness.

Get 360 feedback about potential mentors before involving them in facilitated mentoring programs where they will be role models. In my experience, leaders who overplay their strengths are not good mentors to a mentee who is looking to practice the competency.

2. Make growth opportunities count.

Advancing women in their careers by giving them opportunities for growth is moving in the right direction. So when one woman earned the invitation to participate in a next-level leadership team meeting, she naturally accepted. When the meeting started, she was asked to take minutes for the group.

When a mid-level manager is given an opportunity and then assigned an administrative task, it doesn’t advance them in any way. They want to be free to be actively engaged because they want to maximize the occasion. Playing the role of the scribe is a sensitive issue for women as it relegates them to assist in an administrative function, long ago perceived as a woman’s rightful job and as far as her career could advance.

3. Reserve your praise for a job well done.

A director in a design studio in the technology sector prepared an outstanding strategy. Her manager asked her to present what she and her team had accomplished. Many more people came to the call than were expected and in the banter before the presentation began, her manager noticed that the director was a little nervous. His response was to tease her about the colour of her lipstick thinking it would provide her with the confidence she lacked by telling her how good she looked. It had the opposite effect. Instead, it made her feel self-conscious.

Women want men to be great allies when they face challenges at work. What some allies don’t know yet is that commenting on women’s makeup, clothing or physical appearance redirects attention to how a woman looks instead of focusing on their competence. Calling out a woman’s physical appearance is a challenge for women working hard every day to gain credibility.

4. Recognize that one rule can’t fit everyone.

Among the new measures brought on to slow down the increased expectations for work since the pandemic, is the “no emails or work calls past 7 p.m.” rule to show support for parents who have family obligations. But instead of freeing people up from work obligations, it serves to levy new pressures to get everything done before the witching hour. This is the matching bookend of obligatory early morning meetings for those with childcare responsibilities.

The best ideas are rigorously tested before they become rules. This rule disproportionally disadvantages moms with family responsibilities immediately after the workday. Encouraging leaders to have conversations with their teams in order to tailor the right limits for everyone is preferable to a blanket rule. Flexibility not uniformity is preferred.

5. Build on what came before.

A committee was put together in a public sector organization to support women’s leadership. When the office responsible for developing policy and programs to advance women’s equality learned about it and wanted to be involved, the chair communicated that she had no interest in collaborating and preferred to work without dialogue.

When leaders go it alone and don’t leverage the people, processes or work that’s come before, they forfeit lessons from the field, efficiencies for disseminating communication through established pathways and the opportunity to build momentum.

6. Promote for real.

Being promoted means an increase in responsibilities. Yet when there is no actual increase in decision-making power, the promotion is in bad faith. A recently promoted leader’s decisions had to be run by her male senior management team each time. It wasn’t long before this director understood that she wasn’t set up to succeed. She also came to doubt that her pay was on par with the men at her level since she was only permitted to function as Team Lead.

Research shows that early on in careers, men on average, are given more people to supervise and lead larger teams. As a result, they gain a wider span of control even at the same organizational level. Getting a change of title with more responsibilities but no increase in decision-making power is the oldest cheat in the book. It looks good to promote a woman but it’s demoralizing for everyone it affects.

The problems that are leading to the great resignation didn’t start today. Yet we have the opportunity now to re-imagine work and normalize new ways to ensure women are supported and valued. It all starts with listening to women’s experiences to know where to make changes so that women know they belong.

(This article is written by me, and was first published by Forbes.com)

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com 

Laura Menke Arroyo on Talent Development

Laura Menke Arroyo is 1 of 4 senior leaders who has been invited to speak about people development on a panel at DELL EMC this month. Laura is a senior leader in Market Intelligence (MI) at DELL EMC working at HQ in Round Rock Texas.  She’s known for her talent in market analytics and she is also recognized as a great collaborator and people developer, and I am fortunate to be her executive coach.  There’s another way that Laura stands out.  She is Dell EMC’s first female leader for their combined MI team.

The team’s work is used across the company in many countries to steer company strategy.  People find their work so compelling that it’s natural that everyone wants to get their hands on it.  No surprise in a competitive marketplace where each division wants to improve their results as a contribution to the overall standing of DELL EMC as a whole.  In advance of her time speaking to leaders inside DELL EMC, I’ve invited her to share her views about people development with you.

Sheila: Firstly, thank you for talking with me about talent development Laura.  This is fun isn’t it?  Can you begin by saying something about what you do?

Laura: I’m happy to share what I know with other leaders who read your blog Sheila.  I lead the Dell EMC Market Intelligence Team.  We guide Server, Storage, and Networking revenue to external analyst firms representing a $150B industry.  We standardize quarterly share reporting and provide forward-looking insights of performance, providing insights into the industry as a whole and identifying opportunities of growth.

Sheila: That’s a heavy responsibility, designing and calculating market analytics across geographies and organizations when everyone counts on your team to provide measurements for performance.  The pressure of getting it right I know is immense!  What do you consider when you are hiring talent?

Laura: I personally like to build out teams with varied backgrounds.  Today I have talent from engineering, computer science, marketing, finance, and even one person with a background in archaeology.  While the different perspectives are useful for diverse views, I also encourage members of my team to continue networking in their original field too.  I recently hired a woman engineer as a data scientist and have encouraged her to stay in touch with other women engineers so that she can learn from them what innovations are emerging in her field that could have resonance with what we do.  Working with us in data intelligence will develop her skills in understanding the broader technology market and she’ll gain experience with the latest trending and models for planning and prediction.  With her technical degree in engineering and a better understanding of business and technology trends she’ll benefit from more career opportunities in the future.

Sheila: So you encourage people to stay close to their field so that they will benefit and so will the team.  That’s a great way to learn from their connections in other industries outside your own.  Is there a secret you can share about how you help people get to where they want to go with their career?  

It can’t get any simpler

Laura: I encourage people to speak up and say what they want. It’s easy to say but not everyone does it, and we can’t read each other’s minds.  Take me, for example, when I wasn’t yet a  people manager.  Way back when I wanted to make the leap into management, I had the discussion with my manager and bluntly stated that I was ready to lead.  Then I backed up my declaration with several actions that helped me gain experience to go in that direction.  For example, I set up the first day orientation meetings for Finance, where I was working at the time, securing volunteers from across the organization to make the day valuable, current and relevant.  It is sometimes harder to get folks to do something when they don’t work directly for you. Leading this well was a great transition point to becoming a people manager.

Generating a storied career

Sheila: That was a terrific strategy Laura that clearly paid off. What strategies do you use today to keep development top of mind with your team members?

Laura: We know that talent development is not a one time check-the-box event.  That’s why development is a recurring agenda item for discussion in my 1 on 1’s.  I think of a career as a series of stories that each person is creating.  Thinking of my own career as a series of stories is aspirational. I first ask myself to go back in time and ask:  what are the stories am I most proud of until now in my career? And then I segue to – what stories do I want to tell in the future?  I ask people what they want their story to be.

Sheila: I love that, and you know that I am a big fan of stories.  You and I work together using purposeful stories.  I like how you’ve shaped questions around stories to work with your team on their careers.  What other strategies have you used?

Laura: You need to be deliberate to develop people as your team gets larger.  A focus on a learning culture is vital.  For example, some of our Market Intelligence team members wanted to learn more about strategy and broader communications.  We developed quarterly readouts marrying our team with 4 other teams such as Strategy, Investor Relations, Analyst Relations and Public Communications teams.  All the teams are learning and growing from each other’s skill sets.  It broadens and deepens the linkages in the network of people and makes future career choices available as the teams work with each other.  They can now get insights about what others are working on and appreciate more about how they do their work.  It also expands the possibilities of what’s possible in delivering work where they are right now.

Sheila: I like how you baked development right into how work gets done in this cross-functional way.  DELL EMC has a fast-paced culture and like in many other workplaces, rapid change has become the constant.  How do you keep the lines of communication open in times of change?

Relationships are important.  I get to know the members of the team by spending time with them to understand them better.  Then when times change it is easier and more natural to discuss the changes because I can anticipate their concerns.  I led the 3-Year plan for the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), working with engineers and finance professions across the organization to agree on a single approach, deadlines and the final product for our business strategy.  None of those people worked directly for me, so employing my own leadership skills such as negotiating and influencing were essential. I now know a lot more people and maintain relationships with many of them.  This is also vital to detect any early warning signs of upcoming changes that will impact our team.

Sheila: So that’s how you stay ahead of any surprises. Clever. Have you ever identified a career goal that surprised one of the members of your team?

Laura: Yes, I had a recent hire with a background in computer engineering who was working on some machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics.  I suggested that he could patent the great idea. He didn’t realize this could be part of the role and it excited him to know what he is doing is bigger than the current problem at hand.  The work he’s doing right now could live on to continue to shape decisions going forward. I suggest thinking of the ways to help your people see beyond the present to have greater impact.

What you don’t nurture, you risk losing

Sheila: Nurturing long-term thinking too.  Has there been an incident that has shaped your own philosophy of developing talent?

Laura: As leaders attracting and developing talent, you have to come to terms with the reality that your people may search out for or be tapped for other opportunities.  Recently I had someone leave the company to pursue an MBA at Cornell in order to pursue investment banking opportunities.  I fully supported his decision and even participated in a 360 feedback request from Cornell.  It was a sudden leave, and prior to his departure, I was able to fill the position for cross-over because I had a thick pipeline of talented candidates.  It’s something I learned early on to do.

Sheila: Keeping the pipeline evergreen.

Laura: Yes, exactly. I learned that early as a manager.  When the Integration of Dell and EMC Market Intelligence was moving at full speed, I had just developed the Dell MI team.  With the integration, I needed to shift focus to our new storage line of business.  Having already developed leaders on the team, I was able to bring the new team into the fold and together we were able to take on the challenge of becoming a single voice of industry performance for the Infrastructure Solutions Group.  We combined our analytics and insights into a defined framework for competitive deep dives and insights housed on a combined portal for easy accessibility.

Humpty Dumpty’s lesson to talent

Sheila: A lot was going on at the same time and I can see how you used that to your advantage. Last question for you Laura. How do you identify a high potential team member with lots of headroom?

Well, high potential team members have high energy and optimism.  They seem restless in search of improvement. I see an inquisitive nature and desire to question assumptions and move to make things better.  I lead a complex area with industry disruption.  We are constantly questioning assumptions and are being challenged. We take things apart and put them back together for best results.  So a telltale sign is when someone pulls things apart and can put them back together in a new way.  In my experience, people that show this type of curiosity are a great fit for broad roles across Dell EMC.

Sheila: Thank you Laura. I know that you have much more to say on the topic of people development. I love working with you and am excited as I know you are about speaking on the panel. Thank you for having this exchange!

Laura: This was great! Thanks Sheila. Talk with you next week.