Succession Planning That Works For Women

Even if doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome isn’t really the definition of insanity, it probably is, at best, ineffective. Yet many organizations unwittingly do just that when they look at their talent pipeline to find tomorrow’s leaders and delve no further than the next level down.
If the people at the top and near the top today are majority male (and most often white), recruiting the next generation of leaders from that same pool is likely to yield a similar slate of leaders in the future. That helps explain predictions by McKinsey & Company and others that it will take more than 100 years at the current pace of change to achieve gender parity in the C-Suite.
Succession planning is like the business world’s version of a sport’s farm team. You look across the organization and identify crucial skills, knowledge and organizational practices that will be needed in the future and consider how to get them or impart them to up-and-comers.
Succession planning helps organizations prepare for demographic changes and talent scarcity, identify skills gaps and training needs, boost morale and retention by investing in employees and providing paths for advancement, and guard against costly vacancies.
Change requires allies
Speaking at the Data Center World 2018 Conference, Google Global Director, Business Operations, Learning and Tools, Heather Dooley summed it up with a bow. “Change does not happen on the shoulders of those who are marginalized. It happens when you — those people in power to make decisions and foster change — become allies and advocates.”
The Compass Group’s Christina Ostbye, Vice President of Talent Management, has seen the powerful impact of allies within her organization. Compass, a WFF Champion Level Partner, recently launched its UPWARD program to identify and develop high-potential women in culinary leadership. In addition to providing development opportunities for the women enrolled, a tandem effort educates others on how to be effective allies for emerging women leaders. “We engage people in positions to advance others to educate them on how to get involved, support and mentor women in their careers,” explains Ostbye. “Allies play a critical role in maximizing the benefit of development efforts by reinforcing them and bringing them to life in the workplace and setting others up for success,” she says.
“All of our organizations have opportunities to look more broadly at how we define job roles, the expertise and experience needed to succeed in those roles and how we view the potential transfer of skills and experiences to a new role and new environment,” Ostbye explains. “We also have to be willing as organizations to take calculated, courageous risks to put talented people in positions that may be less obvious on the face but that offer opportunity for them to grow and to apply their skills in new ways for the organization.” 
Talk it out
Ostbye is also a huge advocate of candid conversation. “Too often we make assumptions that we understand someone else’s situation or aspirations,” she says. “When we make the conversation about meeting numbers around representation it becomes very impersonal and even uncomfortable,” Ostbye observes. “When we have a conversation about what a person needs to be successful and what their goals are, it opens a more robust conversation and creates a safer, more authentic experience for everyone involved.”
Approaches that work
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and others offer guiding strategies for nurturing diversity within succession planning efforts.
  • Remove artificial barriers by thinking more broadly about the skills that will actually drive success in a position and how experience gained in other areas may translate to a new one.
  • Cultivate gender diversity in all stages of the pipeline and across all components of the business and functional areas. 
  • Consider a vast array of diverse characteristics in addition to gender, such as race, work backgrounds, years of experience, culture and ethnicity and even urban and rural experiences.
  • Prime your organization to foster true belonging and build a culture where women thrive.
  • Create environments where team members feel safe to engage in candid conversations about differences and can highlight unconscious bias and deal with microaggressions constructively and honestly.

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