Five ways to support female talent

A post in support of International Women's Day

Written by Emerald Works
Published 08 March 2016
Five ways to support female talent

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The 8th March 2016 is International Women's Day (IWD). It celebrates the achievements of women and is also a call to action for accelerating gender parity. You may recognise IWD in your organisation.

With IWD in mind, we wanted to share this article on supporting female talent with you. It’s a great example of the outstanding content we provide in our performance support toolkit.

With our toolkit, our experienced team of writers and editors do the hard work for you.

We’ve done the research, found the best statistics, curated industry-leading advice and identified practical case studies which are all brought together in an easy-to-read bite-sized format.

If you want your leaders and managers to understand the business case for gender parity and enable them to take action to maximise female talent in your organisation, then read on. 

Why does the under-representation of women matter?

chalk figures

Having a good mix of male and female leaders in your organisation makes good business sense:

  • Firstly, it creates a stronger pipeline of future leaders by accessing all the talent that's out there.
  • Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a balanced senior team brings a diversity of perspectives, experience and leadership styles to the table.

This can only result in more informed decision-making and more objective leadership. Supporting female talent is now firmly on the talent management agenda.

First, some facts to consider

You may be wondering:

"Why do we need to focus specifically on women. Won’t they benefit from our talent management practices anyway?"

They may benefit in some ways; however, the business case for why organisations should specifically introduce measures to support female talent is clear:

  • Women make up only 17% of board directors on FTSE 100 companies. [1]
  • Women represent just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than 15% of corporate executives at top companies worldwide. [2]
  • It is estimated that the UK would gain up to ¬£23 billion (the equivalent to 2% of GDP) by better harnessing women‚Äôs skills in employment. [3]
  • 54% of women working part-time have been found to be ‚Äòemployed below their potential‚Äô, meaning that organisations are missing out on what many women have to offer. [4]

Here are five ways to change things in your organisation:

1. Gather data about the current situation

girl on computer

Although you may already have an inkling that your organisation could be doing more to support female talent, gathering accurate data about the current situation can help secure necessary support and buy-in for your plans. Your organisation's HR or L&D team should also be involved, as they can help answer key questions like:

  • How many women does your organisation recruit?
  • What percentage of management positions are held by women?
  • What is your organisation‚Äôs turnover rate of women?
  • Are women particularly under-represented in certain departments or areas?
  • At what rate do women get promoted?

Doing your research will give you a clear starting point to work from. It will also provide you with the evidence you need to build a strong business case to help your organisation support and retain female talent. Once you've got some basic quantitative data, the next step is to supplement this with information gathered directly from your employees about their experiences. A good way to achieve this is by running focus groups (with both male and female participants), to ask employees about their opinions on key issues such as:

  • your organisation's culture and working environment
  • how people are developed
  • promotion opportunities and career expectations
  • how work and family life is balanced
  • attitudes towards senior management

You could also gather this information via an online survey questionnaire. It is worth bearing in mind that people may be more willing to participate in an online survey, and may be more candid in their responses if they are anonymised.

2. Get senior management buy-in

gender accountability

The senior team in your organisation must be committed to supporting female talent in the right way. This is about demonstrating genuine support, and 'walking the talk' wherever possible. Tone at the top is important, therefore your organisation's board, top leaders and senior management team should be actively involved with, committed to, and accountable for gender diversity.

A positive example of the kind of support that makes a real difference is provided by Coca-Cola's chief executive, Muhtar Kent. He has been the driving force behind the development and advancement of women into key roles. This makes sense when you consider that 60 to 70% of Coca-Cola’s customers are women. [5] Kent has pledged to achieve gender parity throughout the company by 2020. This will be achieved by:

  • Ensuring that managers understand how gender equality boosts the bottom line.
  • Developing a powerful business case to underpin the gender balance strategy.
  • Setting up a Women's Leadership Council to advise senior leaders how to develop and promote women.
  • [6] Establishing the Global Women's Initiative, a targeted plan to develop and accelerate the movement of female talent into roles of increasing responsibility and influence. [7]¬†

3. Increase accountability for gender diversity

Setting gender diversity targets, and making leaders and managers across your organisation accountable for recruiting, developing and promoting women are proven ways of improving gender diversity. [8]

To succeed, this approach needs strong commitment from an organisation's leadership. To illustrate this, Klaus Kleinfeld, the chief executive of Alcoa (a mining company where women are particularly under-represented), made it a top priority for all operational managers to hire and develop women. Managers across all levels and regions were asked to regularly report on the diversity of their talent. They must also show the specific steps they are taking to develop employees, for example, by providing mentors, coaching, networking opportunities and development programmes tailored to the needs of women in particular. [9]

4. Develop mentoring programmes for women

mentoring programmes

Having a good mentor can help aspiring leaders (both male and female) to the next level in their careers. However, mentoring has been shown to be especially important for women because they often have difficulty building social capital at work. Research suggests that this can be more of an issue in organisations which are male dominated. [11]

Despite the fact that 67% of women rate mentoring as highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers, 63% of women say that they have never had a formal mentor. [12] If you don't already have one, setting up a formal mentoring programme to help women advance their careers is an essential step. As part of this, it can also be helpful to consider your organisation's culture, and whether mentoring is rare or commonplace. The more accepted mentoring is in your organisation, the easier it will be for women to get involved.

Consider the following questions:

  • If you have a mentoring programme, are employees aware of it?
  • How could you improve the promotion and general awareness of your mentoring programme to women?
  • Do you share success stories to encourage people to get involved?
  • How do you select and train potential mentors?
  • How do you evaluate the success of your mentoring programmes?

5. Promote flexible working - for everyone!

female athlete

If you can offer your employees flexible working arrangements, your organisation will be better placed to retain valuable skilled talent (both male and female), and create a balanced workforce. [13] You could investigate a range of alternatives to full-time working such as: working part-time offering early/late starting and finishing times investigating whether roles can be fulfilled by job-sharing arrangements introducing flexi-time allowing people to work from home or in alternative location(s)

Some organisations offer flexibility to all employees, as a way of increasing engagement and productivity across the workforce. A related issue to be aware of here is the issue of presenteeism, and whether your organisation's culture actively rewards 'face time' in the office and those who work full-time. A way to challenge this and move away from an emphasis on 'face time' is to encourage an organisational culture which is focused on the achievement of results.


Despite efforts to ensure gender balance, the reality for many organisations is that they fail to adequately support high-potential female talent. However, by putting systematic plans in place like the kinds of things suggested here, your organisation can start to make progress and reap the benefits of a more balanced workforce.

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[1] UK Feminista, Facts and statistics on gender inequality‚ Available at: (accessed 3 April 2015).

[2] Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva, ‚Women in Management: Delusions of Progress‚ Harvard Business Review (1 March 2010). Available at: (accessed 6 April 2015).

[3] UK Feminista, ‚Facts and statistics on gender inequality. Available at: 3 April 2015).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Aimee Groth and Lauren Brown, 'Muhtar Kent: Women are Coke's most important market', Business Insider (12 March 2012).

[6] Laura Sabbatini, 'How can businesses boost their female talent pool?' The Guardian blog (23 May 2013). Available at: (accessed 5 April 2015).

[7] Moinak Mitra, 'Coca-Cola CEO Mukhtar Kent advises his team to shed hubris', The Economic Times (19 December 2013).

[8] Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 'How to set gender diversity targets'. Available at: (accessed 6 April 2015).

[9] Laura Sabbatini, 'How can businesses boost their female talent pool?' The Guardian blog (23 May 2013). Available at: (accessed 5 April 2015).

[10] The Office for National Statistics describes social capital as the pattern and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from those networks. Find out more at:

[11] J C Chrisler & D R McCreary, Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (New York, Springer, 2010).

[12] Stephanie Neal, Jazmine Boatman and Linda Miller, 'Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn't She?' Available at: (accessed 5 April 2015).

[13] All employees in the UK have the right to request flexible working. You can find out more about this at:

Panel image credit: Flickr user Ignite New Zealand (accessed 1 March 2016).

Girl and computer image: Flickr user reynermedia (accessed 1 March 2016).

Female athlete image credit: Flickr user Oscar Rethwell (accessed 1 March 2016).

Mentoring image: Flickr user WOCin Tech Chat (accessed 1 March 2016)

Accountability image: Flickr user US Embassy Tel Aviv (accessed 1 March 2016)

About the author

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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