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As Board Babe’s company cuts training budgets, she takes it into her own hands to coach and develop two women (and one man) to help them succeed to the board one day, she unveils in her latest Secret Diary.It still bothers me that all the male executives on my board have successors waiting in line to take their place: and that they are all male. I am working on a plan to change this.
Like many other organisations in cost-control mode, the learning and development of workers can often be the first thing to be cut or wiped. But haven’t we heard plenty of times that it is exactly the learning and development of women lower down the company food chain that is essential in getting them to the top? While I can see the commercial, short-term argument for cutting back on training in this grim environment, in the long-rung, this won’t help us achieve our business goals at the top.
Only last week we heard of the dismal rise in female executive appointments over the last two years, suggesting companies aren’t doing enough to address the issue.
Scrapping training budgets lower down the career ladder can really affect the ‘high potentials’ in the organisation that add real value and deserve investment to drive their career and the performance of the business forward.
But there are things organisations can do that don’t have to cost a lot to help prepare the so-called “pipeline” of talented women to the board.
I have been lucky enough in the past to be developed by previous managers and without their help, guidance and coaching, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It is for that reason, I take six hours a month out of my schedule to coach three of our high potential employees; one male and two female.
My aim is to help them – one day – be in a position to take up a boardroom post at the company, through merit, not because they happen to know the current board member. I try to give them insight into what to expect, what they could work on and give advice on what’s been successful in my career.
Coaching women particularly is enriching for me because they tend to get ‘inside’ their emotions easier and talk from the heart without holding back (once the coaching relationship has been built). In my experience, men struggle with getting beyond their egos and don’t like showing vulnerability, especially to women.
For both women I coach; they are open to tackling their development areas, finding ways of overcoming their fears and truly understanding what will make them grow as leaders and potential board members. As for the male, I will spend two hours analysing with him, how he likes to be perceived by his colleagues, and when we try to get behind his emotions, an invisible barrier slams down.
The thing is, he is talented and will have a continually successful career no matter what he gets from his coaching time with me, however I often wonder just how much more growth I could encourage him to experience if he were more comfortable with his softer side. Six weeks in and I’ve not cracked that on its head.
I look forward to my sessions with both ladies tremendously. They allow me to really challenge their emotional reactions to organisational situations, to people and politics. I get great satisfaction watching them come to a realisation about who they really are, who they want to be as leaders, seeing them develop as more senior and credible managers within our business and their decision making on difficult commercial issues.
However, I notice women under development are not as comfortable selling their strengths until they reach their job role aspirations – as if only then can they be recognised for their achievements. To a certain extent, I recall this side of me when I was being developed. I only truly believed in my ability when I achieved the positions I have always envisaged.
But these women will (as well as the high performing men) be the future conscious of the business; take ethical and commercially sound business decisions objectively, rather than from their egos. One day too, they will coach other women who will take their place.
This is one part of my personal plan for ensuring I take charge of increasing female representation on our board of the future. If I can leave any legacy behind, that would be it.
Board Babe sits on the executive board of a multinational company with more than 10,000 employees. In her weekly blog, she reveals the ups and downs of being a woman at the top in a corporate environment.