By Keri Gohman
A quick glance at the headlines, at almost any point this year, shows that systemic discrimination and abuse of power are both alive and well. As more stories to come to light, it is evident that there is still a lot of progress to be made when it comes to creating workplaces where everyone feels safe and supported. It is still vital today that we remain focused on strategies and programs that drive gender diversity and empower women to grow professionally. As business owners and leaders, we are perfectly positioned to enact this type of change socially, possessing the ability to shape a positive company culture that champions employees to reach their full potential. A team that has diversity of thought and perspective is a more accurate representation of society as a whole, and is going to have far more insight into the needs of its customers.
This Global Entrepreneurship Week, consider some of the strategies you could implement to drive intrapreneurship among women within the ranks of your organization.
Attain buy-in from the top, down
It is critical for organizations to champion diversity and inclusion from the top down. The entire leadership team, whether it be the CEO and the board or otherwise, needs to be absolutely committed to creating a culture where women are truly empowered to succeed. Our strategies can’t be limited to only hiring women – although it’s important. We also need to be committed to ensuring women and other diverse candidates are successful later in their career and are represented in higher ranks of the company, whether it’s at the C-level, board or otherwise. Without a top-down mandate and a leadership team that supports diversity, leaders won’t be able to stay focussed on the commitment. This is true for all types of diversity.
Realize the true value of sponsorship
While mentorship is important, it can be a passive development opportunity. What organizations need more of is sponsorship. Sponsors are in positions of power and actively support, steer and engage in the development of talent in their organization. Women need to actively seek sponsors, and sponsors need to actively seek women. Those sponsors can help women accelerate their careers and advocate for their capabilities. Throughout my career, sponsors have proved invaluable on my journey. They supported me when I was looking for growth, gave me roles before I thought I was ready and taught me the important skill of saying yes to these opportunities and being willing to learn through failure. My sponsors were always there advocating behind the scenes – representing me to other senior leaders when I wasn’t in the room. In turn, as I’ve become more senior, I’ve learned the important role that I can play for others as a sponsor to impressive, junior talent.
Nurturing sponsorships offer a two-way opportunity. Organizations can to create visibility for top talent so that more senior leaders recognize high potential individuals and give them great opportunities. Senior leaders can then invest in being effective sponsors to guide development. In turn, women can find their own sponsors by actively nurturing their relationships across the organization. It’s important for women to remember to give their time, resources, and support to other people – both inside and outside of the workplace. By cultivating these relationships, building rapport over time, and always being willing to give their support and resources in return, it’s much easier to grow.
Celebrate what makes your people unique
It’s great to have a mandate, sponsors and support, but the day-to-day experience that women have in your company and with their managers is the top determinant of success. Nothing will create a poor experience like forcing your people to act and behave in a culture that is rigid and narrow. Encouraging employees to be their authentic selves and celebrating their uniqueness is also important to fostering an inclusive culture where employees feel valued. Never assume someone should think or act a certain way; doing so drives dissatisfaction and causes people to look elsewhere where they don’t have to work to be accepted. Putting people in a box stifles creativity and leaves no room for innovation. Rather than coaching employees on how to fit in, leverage their approach for greater diversity of thought. Not only will it add value to your company, but believing in their ideas will instill loyalty and passion in your people.
When leaders create the right environment for their people, they help move society forward as a whole. By leading with passion, purpose, and offering your team the resources they need to grow you can empower your people to do the best work of their lives.
Keri Gohman is the President of the Americas at Xero. A seasoned executive from the U.S., Keri has a lauded career in the financial services sector across banking, software and insurance, as well as an extensive track record on tailored solutions for the small business sector. Keri was previously executive vice president and general manager of Capital One’s Small Business banking division and held senior roles at General Electric Financial Assurance. She holds an M.B.A. from Lynchburg College.