Human Resources Management Articles on a variety of HR topics, Diversity and inclusion, leadership and more, offered by the Red Shoe Movement

Empowering Women: Asking Tough Questions

Empowering Women for Career Success

Empowering Women for Career Success

Even the best intentions sometimes fall short. This is often the case when it comes to empowering women. There are plenty of programs out there focused on empowering women that unwittingly play against their own missions.  Just recently, one of my clients brought into her company a three-day training program where participants where repeatedly told in no uncertain terms that they needed to wear jackets to project executive presence. There was no room left for individual self-expression, nor any in-depth discussion of what executive presence really means and the various ways in which it is projected. No, during this particular program, participants were strongly encouraged to adapt to the reigning style of the corporation set in place and upheld by the executive-majority – middle-aged white males — if they hoped to grow beyond middle management.

How are you empowering women in your organization?

Undoubtedly, that’s the antithesis of empowering women. It’s common knowledge that you take people’s power away when you ask them to check their style and personality at the door and adopt someone else’s style – be that the dress code, the way they express themselves, the way they think, or the way they relate to others.  Equally important as allowing women to bring their style and personality to work is providing an environment where women feel comfortable asking tough questions. Yet, when women are asked to leave their uniqueness at home, it’s unlikely that they’ll feel comfortable asking colleagues questions that can help them understand unspoken rules that can open doors to better opportunities.

There’s has to be a clear connection between your words and specific actions or the culture of your organization is unlikely to change and promoting women to higher positions becomes harder.

There’s has to be a clear connection between your words and specific actions or the culture of your organization is unlikely to change and promoting women to higher positions becomes harder.

Questions that relate to the salary range others are making for similar positions, what packages their male counterparts have received to move for a long-term assignment, how to break into a certain powerful clique within the company, and so on. Questions that you don’t ask when you don’t feel empowered.

So you could be talking about empowering women from here until 2050, but unless there’s a clear connection between your words and specific actions, the culture of your organization is unlikely to change and years from now you’ll still be wondering why is it so hard to promote more women to higher positions.

Empowering Women with Actions

Here are a few things you can start looking into right away, if your goal is to prepare more women for career success.

    • Understand your internal hiring and promotion processes. How do you define executive presence? What are the unwritten expectations of someone with executive presence? Can that definition be expanded to include more women? Do your executive positions all involve a lifestyle few women can adjust to? Are there any areas of flexibility? Do you pass over women for promotions assuming they won’t be up to a job that demands travel?
    • Evaluate openness to employee input. How open is your organization’s management to listening and implementing ideas from women at lower levels? How do you reward those ideas?
Understand your internal hiring and promotion processes. How do you define executive presence? What are the unwritten expectations of someone with executive presence?

Understand your internal hiring and promotion processes. How do you define executive presence? What are the unwritten expectations of someone with executive presence?

  • Create circles of trust. Do you offer opportunities for your employees to meet in smaller groups and discuss honestly critical career issues? Are they structured in a way that elicits mutual trust?
  • Review your unwritten dress code. Are you upholding codes initially established by and for men in the workplace? How can they be adjusted to embrace different styles for women?

If empowering women is a top priority for you, you may find yourself analyzing the core culture of your company to identify areas that need small tweaks and others that require a complete make over. Start somewhere, anywhere. Any step, even a small one, is a step in the right direction.

Want to Develop Effective Female Leaders? Turn on the Executive Leadership Switch

Qualities of successful female leaders

Whenever the question comes up of what are the most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control. In other words, most successful female leaders share the notion that they can exert control over their circumstances rather than being controlled by them. Much like their male counterparts, these female leaders feel they can make decisions to affect their environment and change what they don’t like in order to move forward with their vision.

The most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control

The most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control

To me, that sense of internal control goes hand in hand with trusting yourself instead of relying on others to make decisions for you.  Unfortunately, many women were raised to rely on others rather than trusting themselves. Let me explain.

Turning on the Executive Leadership Switch

Children naturally place all their trust in their parents to make decisions.  But as children grow up and become adults, that trust should be transferred internally so they can make their own decisions that align with what’s best for them.  Many women never develop that sense of self trust to make decisions, most likely because they have traditionally moved from their parents’ home to a husband’s or partner’s home without developing the independence to trust themselves. They keep on seeking permission or approval from someone else before they make up their minds.  So it seems that, although women may become independent from their parents as they move away, they frequently may not become completely autonomous. They may not be exercising their decision-making skills as much as needed in order to graduate to executive leadership positions at work.

There are probably more, but I remember very clearly two occasions when I transferred the responsibility for making a decision to someone else.  First, when I was trying to get divorced and kept hoping that my husband would give me permission to do it. It took me several years to recognize that he didn’t agree with me, and he would never make that decision for me. It was I who needed to make the decision, take the risk, and face the consequences.

The second was when I was about to publish the Spanish edition of my latest book Find Your Inner Red Shoes, and my publisher sent me a series of unappealing cover options. I kept asking for something more powerful, more in line with the topic of the book, and hoping that he would decide on a cover that I could live with. My agent (another man) even warned me that were I to suggest exactly what the cover should look like I would carry the responsibility if the book didn’t sell well.

And here’s where we reach the crux of the problem. When you make decisions, you have to face the consequences of the decisions you make. That’s exactly what executive leadership is all about. Unfortunately, many women have not shaken off their childhood fear of these consequences. But as long as women seek permission from others who they trust more than themselves, as long as they expect others to make the decisions for them, they will continue to live in the past. They will continue to be dragged down by old mandates that subconsciously interfere with their career growth.

How to Turn Your Managers into Female Leaders?

By helping women locate and turn on their executive leadership switch you can shine a light on the path away from the past and into the future. It’s about making visible what’s under the surface by naming it and openly discussing the effect that not trusting yourself to know what’s best for you will have on your career.

Find out how to turn your managers into female leaders

Find out how to turn your managers into female leaders

A great way to elicit internal trust is to celebrate autonomous decision making in your employees. By resisting punishment of calculated risk-taking, you can send a strong message that this kind of behavior is welcome. Invite your female managers and high potentials to embrace their autonomy and feel comfortable with making their own decisions without having to check with their supervisors every step of the way. Encourage them to trust themselves to know what’s best for their teams and for your business, and you’ll see how fast a new group of female leaders emerges from the shadows of fear.


Managing Generation Y in the Workplace: How Can Managers Motivate Their Employees?

The secrets to managing Gen Y in the workplace

The secrets to managing Gen Y in the workplace

When it comes to managing Generation Y in the Workplace (Millennials), one of the most frequently asked questions is: How can managers motivate their employees? —These young, hyper-connected, multi-screened, don’t-want-to-pay-my-dues employees who share the workspace (when they agree to come to the office) with older generations.

Funny enough I don’t seem to have a problem with this idiosyncratic lot. They are smart, exciting, have an unprecedented ability to learn new things fast, to be in touch with what’s going on in the world, and a passion for making an impact in society. And their connectivity doesn’t only mean their smart phones are an extension of their arms, it also means they are global citizens who don’t see race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or even geography the same way their parents do. They have a deeper sense of how connected all humanity is, how one’s actions have an effect in someone else’s life, even when that someone lives thousands of miles away.

The 6 Secrets to Managing Generation Y in the Workplace

There are six secrets to effectively managing Generation Y in the workplace:

  1. Leverage all they have to offer and allow them to impact you and the way you work rather than trying to push them to conform to what the workplace looked like when they entered it.
  2. Learn from them as much as you want them to learn from you.
  3. Give them their own project with specific guidelines on outcomes and deadlines and then give them as much freedom to manage the project as possible. Have checkpoints to make sure they are on task but avoid being the helicopter parent they grew up with.
  4. Invite them to offer their own ideas on how things can be done differently to obtain better results, and then implement as many of their ideas as feasible.
  5. Provide as much work flexibility as possible. If there’s no compelling argument to have them physically in the office 9:00-5:00 PM, let them work from wherever they want.
  6. Treat them with the respect they expect and deserve.
Generation Y in the workforce

4 Key strategies to Engage Generation Y in the workforce

How can managers motivate their employees and strategies that work

But we all know that managing Generation Y in the workplace is only part of the deal. What’s more challenging is to motivate these employees, to engage them with your company in such a powerful way that they don’t feel the need to jump to your competition. It’s been said that loyalty is not one of this generation’s strong suits but I disagree. Here are a four key strategies that have worked wonders for me.

  1. Find out what their personal and their professional goals are and make sure to align them with the projects you assign to them. It is in this alignment that you’ll tap into their passion and their loyalty for the work they do and by extension, to you.
  2. Offer public recognition for their contributions and whenever possible, offer additional awards such as certificates, special opportunities, etc. as part of such recognition.
  3. Provide plum opportunities or assignments to those in your team who excel at what they do. It could be to meet executives in the organization that can function as career sponsors, or attendance to conferences your employees are particularly interested in (even when they don’t relate to the work they do for you.)
  4. Support the causes that are important to them. This is a generation that is involved in many causes outside work. Find a way to tap into that involvement by either providing financial support, time off to attend to activities related to that cause, or even having your company partner with some of the organizations your employees value most.

The best part about working with Millennials is that they are hard working, creative and passionate people. When you start implementing these very simple strategies suddenly managing Generation Y in the workplace becomes the most rewarding part of your day. Suddenly you realize that you have been looking at this group the wrong way and that they are your most loyal employees, your best brand Ambassadors who will promote your company without you even asking.

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Benefits of a Diverse Workplace

The evidence is all around us: The U.S. has become a multicultural society (35% of the population is now non-white), making it imperative to succeed at managing a culturally diverse workforce. Perhaps this is not news for you and you are already implementing a well-thought out diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy. Or perhaps you still need to be sold on the benefits of a diverse workforce.  Wherever you are in your journey, it’s helpful to recognize that, although managing a culturally diverse workforce may present challenges, it offers you a great opportunity to impact your bottom line.

Efforts at creating and managing a culturally diverse workforce

Despite decades of effort to create an inclusive culture in corporations across the U.S., most experts agree that not enough progress has been made in moving diverse talent up the ranks. In too many cases the Affinity Groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERG), and Diversity Councils (whose goals include providing a voice to members of different minorities, recruiting and developing diverse talent,  and offering business strategies focused on specific markets) play against their intended objectives. Rather than offering diverse talent the opportunity to shine through innovative ideas that can then be implemented company-wide, these groups frequently contribute to keeping people and projects in silos.

Benefits of Culturally Diverse Workplace

Find ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact

Two Key Benefits of a diverse workplace

If you really want to capitalize on the benefits of a diverse workplace, a more effective approach is to leverage the differences – the varying viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences – of your employees and to find ways for different groups to interact with each other. For that to happen, the focus needs to be on:

1)   Finding ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact. Whether you do it through physical arrangement of workspace, the way in which projects are structured, frequent job rotation, or another strategy, the idea is to offer multiple opportunities each day for people to collaborate with others who don’t look or think like they do.  Only by being exposed to a diversity of thought patterns, worldviews, problem-solving strategies, values, and behaviors do people become familiar with different upbringings, different cultures, and different ways of doing things.

2)   The unique traits that every individual brings to the table rather than pushing for everyone to quietly adapt to the system already in place. When you encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, rather than leave part of themselves at the door, they bring their passions and interests along. And it is by tapping into your employees’ passions and interests that you can connect them with projects that are a better fit. It is by accepting each person wholeheartedly that you will fully empower them and engage them with your company’s goals. That’s what makes for the most loyal employees.

If familiarity with someone leads to a feeling of comfort, and feeling comfortable with others leads to trust, the best way to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce is by helping people to get to know each other rather than keeping groups apart. It’s by appreciating that individual differences enrich the work environment and contribute to your company’s success.

Corporate Leadership Development programs: What Works

Corporate Leadership Development

Corporate Leadership Development

A recent global survey about corporate leadership development programs [1] reports a shift in the best corporate leadership development approaches revealing that the current trend is towards customization and personalization. In the world of customizing cars, sneakers, and ring tones people expect to have their jobs designed to fit their career goals. Which, in other words, means that one size fits one.

Needless to say, the benefits of a successfully implemented corporate leadership development program are numerous. Just to name a few:

  • Attraction and retention of talent
  • Increased productivity and profitability
  • Increased organizational agility
  • Improved management communication and alignment

This study revealed that 53% of the leaders around the world are struggling with accelerating leadership development, 43% with retention of top talent and 36% with engaging and motivating top talent.

Corporate Leadership Development: What are successful companies doing?

The top three strategies respondents are using to address corporate leadership development are:

  • Growing talent internally by identifying high performing leaders (78%)
  • Providing experiential learning opportunities (action learning) (62%)
  • Providing coaching, mentoring, job shadowing and rotational programs (55%)

Great benefits of Action Learning

Lately, I had the chance to see first hand how effective the action learning approach can be. As part of the Red Shoe Movement we have an Ambassador School (an offsite action learning program) where a group of volunteer high potential young women get together to prepare a Signature Event.

During this time, the group meets biweekly to decide every detail of the event and receive hands-on training on: event planning and execution, logistics, communication style, group facilitation, negotiation, and professional appearance. They become each other’s best supporters and cheerleaders, a tight group of women who grow into their own style of leadership. Each one gets multiple opportunities to sharpen their leadership skills by being put in charge of various parts of the process.

One Size Fits One

What are Successful Companies Doing?

As a result, every one of the women experienced unprecedented engagement in their jobs and careers: From promotions, to changes in career tracks, to heightened participation in issues affecting their organization’s bottom line, and so on.

Our first group of Ambassadors, not only executed a flawless event at The New York Times (where 230 professional women got together to discuss topics of their interest,) but they decided to stay involved and move on to the next level of responsibility. Each one of the original Ambassadors is now leading her own Signature Event and coaching their own teams of Ambassadors who just came onboard.

The greater passion they show for their 9:00-5:00 jobs and the heightened sense of career ownership is a function of:

  • Having had a chance to discover what is important to them
  • Having been given the opportunity to take risks in a safe environment
  • Having been part of a group of supportive women who encouraged them to share and try new ideas
  • Having received positive validation and recognition for their contributions

Whether onsite or off-site, action programs can be what you need to set your female employees on fire. You should try this at home. The effects will surprise you!


[1] Strategic Leadership Development-Global Trends and Approaches, June 2013, by Right Management and The Conference Board. (The sample included 654 respondents, a comprehensive literature review and case studies based on interviews with senior leadership development professionals.)