Women’s Leadership Series: Part 1 – Structure Around Promotion and Advancement

Author: Kara Reynolds

One of our most interactive and well-attended sessions this year was our Women’s Leadership Panel in October 2019. The audience and panel alike had open, honest and critical dialogue around supporting mentoring and helping to further advance women in the workplace. We’ve created a mini blog series to discuss the four topics that were dug into; Structure Around Promotion and Advancement, Getting Your Leadership to Buy-in, Engagement and Why It Matters, and Mentors and Sponsors. Today, we will be focusing on Structure Around Promotion and Advancement.

A major consideration organizations address when embracing female leadership is the structure around advancement and promotion. Women’s ability to advance within a company is historically difficult, and it is due to several reasons, most importantly the criteria by which they’re being observed. Leaders must begin changing the criteria around what makes an employee worthy of a promotion. Instead of looking toward the number of hours spent at the office, Aileen and Jill suggested looking through a more subjective, open-minded lens. They suggested having managers look at the value that an employee brings to the company, through their skills and production. Jill emphasized the benefit that women have at law firms, for instance, in terms of their flexibility, and how companies would rather have a great worker who is female and able to be in the office a bit less often due to personal demands, than opt for another employee who is mediocre, but who happens to be in the office all of the time. The quality of the work should be the focus for a promotion over other considerations. Aileen said that you must continue to reiterate the standard that needs to be changed for what most women require, which involves things like maternity leave options or more flexible work hours that create a better work/life balance. These conversations need to happen from the top, in order to affect an entire organization.

“It is truly a culture change that has to happen, and you have to talk about it constantly.”

Kathy mentioned some discovery around her own research in leadership for women. She explained that women will often lose out on promotions and opportunities for advancement during the initial steps from entry level positions to management in their careers. Oftentimes, this occurs due to leadership, who need to hire for diversity. Instead of leadership hiring employees who look and think like them, if they’re intentionally hiring for diversity, they will begin to open the door for a variety of employees in leadership – especially women.

Frankly, women must ask for what they want from leadership. It is important for women to learn how to advocate for themselves. Some attendees asked about how to deal with the eye-rolling they might get from asking leadership about things like women’s groups and roundtables, or even nursing rooms. Surprisingly, Jill said that she used to get eye-rolls from both men and women in the office. So, she suggested an emphasis on an entire culture change, which gives employees covering the whole spectrum of opinions a chance to ease into a different mindset. The leader of an organization has a lot of control over the direction of a company in terms of mission and mindset, so having an open conversation with your leader is a good first step. The notion that you must do things the way the boss has always done them is not going to be a viable option for all women, and when you ask for what you need, you are owning both your lifestyle needs as well as your voice.

Women Get Things Done

The biggest piece of advice that the panelists emphasized, especially to young women who are just entering the workplace, is to remember that you’re more qualified than you think. Young women today are hard workers and need a place to showcase their strong work ethic. The group spoke about how women need to stop disqualifying themselves and stop apologizing for their needs – and perhaps apologizing in general. They emphasized the importance of speaking to girls in middle and high school and teaching them how to grow their confidence. Daughters see their working moms get things done both at home and at work, and this, in turn, affects how they perceive their own capabilities. The workforce is starting to embrace women in leadership and seeing the positive impact they have on companies and culture. Companies who provide women a seat at the table will continue to pave the way for female leaders now and into the future.

Where to Get Training for Leaders

Executive Resource Group

Leadership Programs

Emerging Leaders Program at UMBC

Dale Carnegie Leadership Training

High Gear Leadership Training

Leadership Training at Loyola University

Towson University Women’s Leadership Program

Griff Hall – Leadership Training Facilitator

Engagement (Surveys and other tools)



Saba (used to be Hallogen)

First, Break All the Rules by Jim Harter, Marcus Buckingham and Gallup

For more information about our upcoming learning opportunities, visit our SIG University page and register for our next session!