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Women's Leadership Development at the Fortune 500

The premier US women’s college - Smith College Executive Education - conducted a survey of senior L&D executives from Fortune 500 companies to assess the current state and emerging trends in leadership development

Thursday 30 June 2016


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With many complex forces bearing in on the leadership development space, Smith College Executive Education recently conducted a survey of senior L&D executives from Fortune 500 companies, to assess the current state and emerging trends in leadership development, with an aim to improve the effectiveness of practices for both enterprise-wide and women only talent development initiatives.


Four key findings from the survey are:

1 – Talent development programs are taking a holistic approach to developing future corporate leadership

Three main imperatives emerged: First developing the talent pipeline and succession planning; second developing people, particularly qualities and behaviour that lead to effective change management; and third developing a corporate culture that fosters diverse leadership styles.

The researchers point out that these three imperatives are inextricably linked; developing people and the corporate culture is the best way to ensure succession.

2 – There is a gap between the competencies critical for leadership at the enterprise-wide level and those critical for women’s leadership development

Although the need for ‘soft skill’ development is true for all leaders, which types of soft skill development are critical to leadership success varies between enterprise-wide and women specific development. Personal leadership qualities seen as critical for women leaders include authenticity, insight, and resilience – these are notably missing from general leadership development imperatives.

It is also important to pay attention to what the organization deems as important to success and ensure that women are being developed in those areas equally.

3 – Developing women leaders at the mid-career level is a current priority

Men and women graduates start their business careers in roughly equal numbers, and yet still less than 20% of corporate board members are women. The good news is that organizations are now placing special importance on grooming women leaders for the C-suite and beyond.

The researchers identify several strategies that organizations should adopt to actively manage the institutional and personal biases that have a cumulative negative impact on women’s advancement to the top ranks of leadership.

4 – Diversity ranks low as a measure of leadership development success

IEDP has previously reported several pieces of research that show diversity to have a positive effect on corporate performance and even to specifically benefit the bottom line. So it was disappointing to find in this research that diversity did not emerge as a priority for talent development professionals.

The researchers advise organizations to align talent development and diversity goals to enhance talent retention and advancement as well as improve business success.

In their research white paper, the Smith team expand on these findings and offer some valuable recommendations to improve the effectiveness of leadership development practices.

Click DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE to read the research white paper

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