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Women in leadership programmes that actually work

The promotion of gender diversity in leadership roles not only contributes to a more inclusive workplace but also brings about a myriad of benefits for both the individuals and the organisation as a whole.

But how do you know if a women in leadership programme will actually work or not?

Ultimately, when looking for a female leadership development strategy it is important to remember one thing: brilliant female leaders are simply brilliant leaders. If you want to develop world-class female leaders, then give them world-class leadership development.

That is why, at Ivy House, we don’t teach ‘women in the workplace’ tools. We empower women to bring their talents to the fore, and lead in a way that works for them.

You might be thinking, ‘surely there are some things that are more relevant for women to learn than men’. And we agree. However, when the learning is good enough — when it is deep, personal, and focuses on the individual — then you no longer need to rely on gender stereotypes or broad brush assumptions, and can instead rely on the quality of the content and the facilitators in the room to develop each person individually.

What does that look like? In short, female leadership programmes that work will…

Focus on creating behavioural change, that will uplift leadership capability

While this may appear obvious, the challenge with conventional women in leadership programmes lies in the tendency to immediately start cultivating a specific skill set considered essential for effective leadership. In doing so, they neglect to tackle the fundamental aspects of mindset and behaviour that serve as the foundation for creating meaningful change.

Without laying this foundation for change first, nothing will change, no matter how many skills modules you pile on. We have to start by making the unconscious conscious, and that means starting with self-knowledge — with the beliefs, values and behaviours that are running the show.

“This isn’t about teaching tips and techniques. It doesn’t start with what, but who: who you are and who you want to be. Your identity is not set in stone, you have a choice in every moment. It’s almost impossible to change habits without addressing the root beliefs that led to your past behaviours. You need to start by addressing who you are.”

Elke Edwards, Founder, Ivy House

Create more authentic, values-led leaders

Most women in leadership programmes tend to do this one really annoying thing: they train women in ‘masculine’ leadership skills, in order to help them compete in a male-orientated world. You’ve probably seen this before; modules such as negotiation, authoritative decision-making, gaining control of a room, etc. The result is that these programmes only amplify further the stereotype that male traits are more desirable in leadership positions. But this simply is not true. In fact, according to The PEW Research Centre, the top skills needed to be successful as a leader are: emotional intelligence (EQ), empathy, listening skills, coaching and mentoring, and innovation/ creativity. And research overwhelmingly suggests that women ‘score at a statistically significantly higher level than men on the vast majority of leadership competencies’. Honesty, intelligence, compassion, innovation, decision-making – they outrank men on every single one.

We believe that strong leaders are masters at leveraging their natural abilities, and helping women to tap into their innate strengths means creating more authentic, values-led leaders. Leaders who know exactly what type of leader they were born to be, leaders who have the self-awareness and consciousness to identify their strengths and areas for development, and leaders who aren’t afraid to be open about their story, their ambitions and their challenges.

Effective leadership programmes will guide individuals towards discovering their personal leadership style, and help them to leverage their innate and unique strengths – a powerful skill for any female leader.

Reduce imposter syndrome

Most people will experience some form of imposter syndrome throughout their careers but the chances of this are far higher if you are from a marginalised group. Women tend to spend time with thoughts that drive the belief ‘I’m not good enough to be here’. They tend to undervalue their own strengths and over-think their weaknesses, often to a point where it can become overwhelming.

Living from this space — filled with fear of being found out as a fraud — can result in:

  • People overstretching themselves, taking on more than they should in order to prove themselves, often leading to burnout
  • Experiencing decision paralysis, reduced productivity, and high anxiety around work
  • Devaluing of the self, negative self-talk and difficulty seeing personal value

Effective women in leadership programmes can help women get to the root of these beliefs, and then empower them to see past the limiting, damaging thought cycles. These programmes will impart a deep understanding of how the mind, thought and beliefs actually work – and how they can be used as a powerful tool rather than operate as an enemy. When programmes address this topic, they can help women to leave the feelings of imposter syndrome behind, and show up as their full, powerful, fearless selves.

Improve employee engagement and retention

The majority of research shows that one of the largest contributors to retention is people feeling that they are being invested in, and have enough opportunities for growth and development. When women experience this support, rather than feeling hindered by systemic barriers to advancement, it fosters a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment where both genders have equal prospects for development, leading to heightened employee morale.

Moreover, female leaders often serve as role models and mentors, inspiring other women within the organisation to aspire to leadership roles. As a result, organisations with robust female leadership development initiatives tend to experience lower turnover rates, as employees are more likely to feel valued, motivated, and committed to the company’s success.

However, the key ingredient for a successful women’s development programme that increases talent retention is this: the programmes do not run in isolation.

If you want to create real change, it calls for a cultural shift. And if that doesn’t happen, the results can be counterproductive; if the programme is a success, what you’ll get are a highly skilled, driven and empowered tribe of leaders who are ready and excited for their next steps. Leaders who are passionate about taking ownership for their life and career and want to create change… and if they return to an organisation that can’t support them with that, many leave.

That leads us onto our final point…

Women in leadership programmes that actually create change must be fully integrated into your organisation (not just a side project)

Integration into the organisational framework is vital. It signals a deep commitment to supporting women and requires active endorsement from senior stakeholders and leaders championing the programme. Post-programme, opportunities for further development and knowledge-sharing within the organisation such as reverse mentoring, presenting to the board, and learning hubs for sharing the learning can be effective. A big-picture approach ensures that every cohort of empowered women are able to becomes agents of change and role models, paving the way for other women to succeed.

This also means starting sooner. If we are going to create real change, we cannot wait until people are in senior positions to offer them development. By this point, there are far fewer women in the talent pool already, which means the cycle of inequality is perpetuated. We have to bring this kind of development to everyone, at every level, so we can create truly inclusive cultures. Only then will we really see change. Only then will the cycle of inequality, lack of role models and gender biases be broken.

We recommend reading our latest white paper, which goes into all of the nitty gritty detail and exposes the reality of women at work. We have done the research so that you don’t have to – but together, we can make a real difference.

If you’re passionate about diversity and would value some support to effectively implement strategies that will create change, we’re only a phone call away.

Ivy House are experts in leadership and talent development; more importantly, we’re experts in behavioural change. And this is the key to shifting the dial – not just in increasing gender diversity, but in creating exceptional leaders who are equipped to meet all your business goals.





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