Closing the leadership gender gap by mentoring and networking

Updated on 10 November 2014

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Closing the leadership gender gap with mentoring and networking

There are many reasons given for why women continue to struggle to advance, despite seeming to make all the right career moves. Susan Colantuono, CEO and founder of a consulting firm Leading Women, and author of No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven’t been told about leadership, says more needs to be done to ensure more women develop the necessary business skills.

In her Ted Talk below, Colantuono explains that despite women occupying 50% of middle management positions, less than a third of that portion make up upper management.

Viewed over one million times, this talk has universal takeaways for both men and women, as well as graduates and mid-career workers looking to advance.

Double standards of mentoring

According to Colantuono, leadership skills are crucial in all levels of management. In the highest positions however, she explains, the most important skill is the ability to understand the business, and people’s roles and how to engage with others to help the organisation achieve its goals .

“This is the skill that is missing in the advice given to women – not because they are incapable of achieving it but because it isn’t recognised as a skill they are advised to acquire,” Colantuono says.

Men are doing a better job of developing business skills through mentoring and networking – being sponsored by someone at the top. Colantuono gives an example of an executive who was responsible for mentoring a man and a woman. In mentoring the man, the executive focused on coaching him the business, while his lessons with the woman centered around helping her develop self-confidence; at the time he didn’t realise he was treating them differently.

Colantuono’s recommended actions to ensure more women take on top leadership positions

  • Require everyone to develop and demonstrate financial acumen. Even for individuals not at middle management yet, by weaving financial or strategic information into project reports it can really impress those above, she says.
  • Make expectations known. Ensure middle managers understand the skills expected of them to advance.
  • Demand proportional succession pools to fill future executive positions, with CEOs and HR prepared to help high-potential employees get the skills needed.

“By recognising and acting on this, we can close the gender gap at the top,” she adds.


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