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Consortium Panel Discusses How to Develop Women’s Talent—and How Both Men and Women Can Benefit From It

By Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist

As the Baby Boomers prepare to exit the workforce, the question is: who will replace them? More and more, the answer is women.

“Women represent a huge pool of talent that is available to fill those leadership roles.” said Anna Marie Valerio, a member of The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and a topic chair of this year’s Leading Edge Consortium. “The Baby Boomers will be retiring and demographic trends tell us there is going to be shortage of trained, experienced people to fill leadership roles in the coming decades.”

Many of those positions will be filled by women, Valerio said. “It is likely that more women will be employed in leadership roles throughout the world,” she said. “Women are actually attaining higher levels of education in this country than men.”

Women now make up 58 percent of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges, 59 percent of those earning Bachelor’s degrees, 61 percent of those earning Master’s degrees, and 49 percent of doctorates, according to 2008-2009 projections from the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics.

“So here, there’s a huge pool of talented, educated women who can move into leadership roles,” Valerio explained. “There is a tremendous opportunity now for organizations to help talented women prepare themselves for leadership positions. We already know a lot about how to develop leaders.  In addition, there are some practical strategies that CEOs, managers, and women themselves can apply to develop women leaders.”

As more leadership roles open up to women, Valerio said, the question becomes: Are there differences in the way we coach women and the way we coach men? “Another way to look at this is, ‘To produce successful coaching outcomes, what are the issues that coaches need to keep in mind when coaching women?’” she added.

 Valerio and fellow SIOP  members Doug Riddle and David B. Peterson will present a panel discussion on this topic at  SIOP’s 4th annual Leading Edge Consortium, “Executive Coaching for Effective Performance: Leading Edge Practice and Research,” October 17-18 at the Westin Cincinnati.

During the panel, “Coaching Women Leaders,” Valerio, Riddle and Peterson will discuss the important issues to keep in mind when coaching women leaders based on their own coaching practices and research as well as take questions and answers from the audience to spur further discussion.

“There really isn’t a consensus right now on the different ways you coach women and men leaders,” said Valerio, who is also the founding president of Executive Leadership Strategies, LLC. “There are many, many similarities between men leaders and women leaders, but there are also some special issues that are frequently encountered when coaching women leaders.”

Much of this information comes from anecdotal evidence, said Doug Riddle, global director of coaching services at the Center for Creative Leadership, who will use some of his past research to discuss women leaders’ coaching needs. At CCL, Riddle worked on developing a survey titled Women’s Coaching: Global Coach Inquiry,” released in April. The survey asked 61 coaches from Belgium, France, Germany, India, Italy, The Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, UK, and the U.S. what issues are most important in coaching women.

Some of the unique needs of women leaders included: helping women self-identify their career goals and assert them to superiors, addressing differing interaction dynamics among men and women, and identifying the best practices of organizations that produce or attract successful women.

Peterson, senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, will also draw on recent research. He surveyed the top coaches at PDI and asked, ‘What are the most common issues you deal with when coaching women leaders?’” From that survey, Peterson said, 14 topics emerged. One unique issue when coaching women leaders, for example, is that women at the top of organizations tend to get there through staff roles and support functions, such as human resources, while men at the top are more likely to get there through operational experience.

An example of this phenomenon can be found in many automobile plants, where a woman is less likely than a man to begin a climb to leadership on the manufacturing floor. This inhibits her from gaining first-hand knowledge of the product and operations of the plant, Peterson explained.

Valerio said authenticity, adequate feedback, and role models at the top of organizations are also issues women seem to desire more of in their work environment.

“Although men can learn from the many examples provided by male leaders at the top of organizations, women don’t have as many role models at the top,” she said. “It is especially valuable for high-achieving women to have coaches, mentors, and women’s networks to enable them to have a clearer picture of what leadership could look like for them.”

Valerio, Peterson and Riddle stressed that, although research on how to coach women in helpful, cases should also be taken on an individual basis.

 “Your knowledge going into a coaching scenario helps you create educated questions,” Riddle added. “But it becomes counterproductive if it allows you to think that these things that occur frequently with women leaders are true of all the women leaders you are coaching.”

In her new book, Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations, to be published by Wiley/Blackwell in 2009, Valerio talks about what managers and executives can do to develop talented women and how this research can help both sexes.

“This is a topic area that’s of great interest to both men and women,” she said. “Leadership development is important to everyone, and many of the younger generations are seeing a blurring of the differences between what men and women want.”

Valerio said that while the panel will discuss coaching women leaders, the needs of male managers as bosses or direct reports of women will also be included in the discussion.

“Although very often women will voice concern about these workplace issues, when I am coaching one on one, I find that many men want the same things,” she said.

 “It’s not just about ‘how do you coach men?’ versus ‘how do you coach women?’” Peterson added. “It’s ‘how do you coach men and women who are dealing with these issues?’”

Anna Marie Valerio is the founding president of Executive Leadership Strategies, LLC.  She is a licensed psychologist who has also worked for IBM, Sony and Verizon.  Her recent book, co-authored with Robert J. Lee, is Executive Coaching: A Guide for the HR Professional.   Published by Wiley/Pfeiffer, it is a practical guide to learn more about coaching and how best to use it in organizations. 

David B. Peterson is senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, where he leads PDI's executive coaching services with responsibility for 200 coaches around the world. Based in San Francisco, his consulting work specializes in coaching for CEO's and other senior executives in Global 100 companies, as well as helping organizations design their own coaching programs.

Doug Riddle is the global director of coaching services at the Center for Creative Leadership, the world’s leading organization committed to developing better leaders through an exclusive emphasis on leadership research and education. He is responsible for the advancement of coaching research and practice and manages over 400 professional leadership coaches world-wide.

Register for the Leading Edge Consortium online here. More information on the consortium, including a complete agenda, can be found on the LEC Web page.