How to empower emerging female leaders at work

A group of women working on their laptops at work.

The acquisition, retention and engagement of strong leaders are crucial for an organisation to thrive. Female leaders, in particular, host a unique set of skills and capabilities that are so valuable to business success. 

However, due to systemic barriers and historical patterns of inequality, many organisations – though they might think they are committed to advancing women into leadership roles – are struggling to truly leverage the potential of emerging female leaders in the workplace.

There’s never been a better time for organisations to revisit and refresh their strategy for advancing women in leadership. In this article we will explore 3 strategies for engaging and retaining top female talent in your organisation. Our economy, the future of work and years of progress toward gender equality depend on it. 

The benefits of advocating for more women in leadership roles

In 2015, The McKinsey Global Institute predicted that by advancing women leaders and equality in the workplace, organisations across the world could add $12 trillion dollars to the global GDP by 2025. Back then, 2025 seemed a long way away, but here we are approaching 2023, and according to academic journals and research, organisations that reevaluated their women’s leadership strategy at the time are benefiting more than just financially. Stronger monitoring and oversight ability, a diversified set of skills and highly innovative ideas are some of the additional benefits of having more women in key leadership roles, according to this study. But the question remains, why are we still so far from achieving gender equality? And where are the leaks in the pipeline?

Barriers to women taking on leadership roles

The most recent McKinsey Women in the Workplace report explains that headwinds from some organisations add barriers to women advancing into higher leadership roles in their careers. In the workplace, women are more likely to experience belittling, microaggressions and having their judgement questioned, which according to McKinsey is leading to women switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen — and at higher rates than men in leadership.

Do women want to lead?

Some research indicates that the gender aspiration gap is key to explaining why women choose not to strive for leadership positions. The phenomenon suggests that generally speaking, women do not aspire to rise through the ranks in the same way men do.

And while this is perfectly acceptable – it does have an effect on global efforts to increase social equality. Because the reality is, while many women don’t want leadership roles, there are an equal number of those who do, and the opportunities for career growth should remain equal for those who are striving to climb the ladder within their organisation, regardless of gender. 

The McKinsey report identified that young women in particular are even more ambitious and are taking a stand against businesses that aren’t working towards equitable, supportive and inclusive workplaces. The article reads, “[young female employees] are watching senior women leave for better opportunities, and they’re prepared to do the same”. 

UN Women is another organisation who are taking enormous strides towards gender equality and is an advocate for women in the workplace. Their global campaign what it takes to lead is a key example demonstrating that women aspiring for leadership is not only conceivable but also attainable within organisations with an effective strategy. 

What it takes to lead’ campaign video by UN Women.

Strategies for advancing women in leadership 

Set the standard within the company culture 

The Profiles in Diversity Journal suggests that an inclusive culture sets up an organisation to reject the unconscious gender biases women have previously faced in the workplace and work towards advocating for female leaders instead. An inclusive organisational culture has an established set of standards for diversity, equity and inclusion and continuously strives to remove barriers to women’s leadership. 

Psychological safety, leadership buy-in and two-way communication are 3 effective strategies for working towards an inclusive workplace culture. Learn more about inclusive workplace culture over on our blog

Mentoring and sponsorship 

To retain and advance female leaders, both sponsorship and mentorship opportunities from existing organisational leaders are effective strategies. 

Sponsorship utilises relationship capital to advocate for women’s career advancement. The role of the sponsor is to champion their sponsee’s high potential to other senior stakeholders and decision-makers.

Mentorship – through professional development – is to connect a less experienced mentee with a seasoned mentor, tap into their knowledge, skills and experience, and transfer that to the mentee in order to support their professional development. 

Learn more about the differences between sponsorship vs mentorship over on our blog

Opportunities for capability development

Leadership training is designed to empower women with the professional development skills and capabilities needed to advance in their careers. At Inkling, we recognise the problem with women’s leadership isn’t women – it’s the structures and narratives around them that create barriers on their path to leadership. This is why our women’s leadership development experiences take an evidence-based approach to tackle this challenge from all angles.

Is your organisation ready to unlock the full potential of its female leaders? 

Our women’s leadership development experiences not only develop the participants, but also their leaders, and the organisational culture they operate in. We understand that no two women are the same and that many women also fall into other under-represented groups, which may present additional barriers. We create a safe space to openly discuss and navigate this, for both participants and their leaders. More development, awareness, and action help to drive change.​

By partnering with your organisation, we cultivate inclusive leadership and the structures needed to advance women in leadership and watch them thrive.

​​Want to learn more? Get in touch with the Inkling team if you would like to find out more about how our tailored women’s leadership programs achieve greater innovation and become a more diverse and inclusive organisation.

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