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Turn and Pull – Why Developing the Next Generation of Women Leaders is On Us

On this International Women’s Day, I encourage you all to ask yourselves one question – how is the NextGen of women leaders feeling?

Of course, there will be as many answers as there are women in our organizations – yet our data tells us that while women are returning to the workplace and participation is rising, stress levels are high and many feel burned out – 67% wish that their manager better understood the impact work has on their mental well-being and the weight of the caring responsibilities they have at home.  

The last few years have given us a glimpse into the future of work and as leaders, it’s our responsibility to do what I call Turn and Pull - look behind us and make sure that we are creating the environment where the NextGen of women leaders can fill the shoes of those of us who are fortunate enough to sit in the leader seat. I shared some of these thoughts at our Women in the Post-Pandemic World of Work during the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland with Cisco’s Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer Francine Katsoudas and Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Founder & President, Women Political Leaders (WPL) – and pleased to include some of their wisdom too...

  1. Autonomy Goes a Long Way. Whether that’s choosing to do the school pick-up or finding time to exercise during the day (or both), women are saying, “We want shared values, skills development, and a true work-life blend” and in exchange, they’ll offer their skills, time, engagement, and trust to their employer.
  2. Life Happens. The pandemic has reminded people that family and health/well-being come first (for women and men by the way). People value being present with their family and care about their health. As global talent shortage continues to set new records, with 77% of employers saying are having difficulty hiring the skilled talent they need, enabling people to live One Life that blends work and home isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s critical to bridging the skills gap.
  3. Prioritize the Manager. Policies like the 4-day week grab the headlines, yet a supportive and empathetic manager scores high up the list when we asked women what most contributes to their well-being at work. A Friday off won’t shift the needle if the rest of the week is spent with an unsupportive team. According to The New Human Age data, 1 in 3 women wish their manager would better understand the impact of their workload on their mental health (vs. 25% of men). And they are willing to walk away if employers fail to meet their needs.
  4. Make the Office a Magnet Not a Mandate. I loved this perspective from Fran on our panel - “The way we do that is by focusing on the work. We make it really clear that for this particular type of work, we're best when we're together. When we tell our people that they come in. They want to feel like the culture works for them. If we are asking them to come in, sit in front of their computer, and do e-mail, women and men alike are going to say, ‘I can do that from home.’ And we all know better now."
  5. Trust Comes First. Whether the NextGen of women leaders is working from home or in the office – a big part of Turn and Pull is providing opportunity with a safety net- a chance to do something new that pushes the comfort zone with the support that you’ve got their back. A key part of this is Trust – as Silvana said at Davos. “You trust people, you trust that they want to do the job, and you trust them to do the job. It doesn't matter if they sit at an office desk, or if they sit at home, or if they even sit somewhere else. What matters is to get the job done and to deliver on it.”
  6. Level the Playing Field. Women aren’t asking for favors, just a level playing field.  Experience tells us that women are often the last to raise their hands for new roles that they might feel unqualified for, while men with the same qualifications might do. We should all be aiming for at least a 50/50 pipeline for growth roles (especially in functions like Finance and IT, traditionally dominated by men) – huge congrats to my two talented North America IT/data and Finance leaders Amanda Alwy, Senior Vice President - IT North America, and Casey Kulka, Senior Vice President - North America Finance.
  7. Destigmatize Conversations Around Mental Wellness. Raise awareness, show some vulnerability, and put support in place. Mental health concerns won’t be solved overnight but we can all share the ways we take care of our mental wellness and physical health. Taking time to look after yourself is not a weakness. For me, that means running, taking a moment to get outdoors, sleeping well, and most importantly spending time with my three girls, my very own NextGen leaders.

I wish we didn’t need to have a dedicated day to focus on female equality, yet today we still do and given the dynamics, I’m grateful for a day that opens the dialogue.

As we mark this International Women's Day, here’s to all the generations of women leaders that have come before us, and for those that will go after, let’s remember that developing the next generation of women leaders is on all of us. We must prioritize creating an environment that supports women's autonomy, work-life blend, and mental well-being, and trust them to do the jobs we’ve tasked them with.

Let’s continue to level the playing field and support each other in our personal and professional growth. Together, we can Turn and Pull, and pave the way for the NextGen of dynamic leaders.