The COVID-19 pandemic hit everyone hard but none more so than working women, who, by all reports, have been the most disproportionately affected. As of March 2021, nearly 3 million women have exited the workforce since the lockdown began one year ago. While many employers have tried their best to support and retain their female employees by offering, for example, flexible work hours and work-from-home opportunities, women are continuing to leave the workforce in droves.
And the women who remain are struggling. They are experiencing increased stress, working longer hours, and are being overlooked for promotions. In addition, professional development has stalled and remains stagnant for many.
The global pandemic revealed the real crisis: the need for employers to think long-term and do more to prepare women for leadership positions.
The short- and long-term impact on women and their organizations is dire, especially regarding diversity and inclusion efforts and the leadership pipeline. Coaching has always been an effective way to attract, develop, and retain all talent. Now is the time for organizations to expand leadership coaching at all levels and invest in women.
Coaching Women Helps Organizations
Coaching has emerged as a key development strategy during the pandemic, particularly for women. It is uniquely positioned to support women during uncertain times because it is flexible, timely, agile, and personalized. And because coaching is sustained over time, so are its outcomes. A study by the Institute of Coaching found that more than 70 percent of people who are coached saw improved work performance, better relationships, and more effective communication skills.
Leadership coaching for women—and not just women in the C-suite, but female business leaders at every level—can help organizations deepen their leadership pipeline. Coaching can also help attract and retain talent. But to do that, organizations must get women into the pipeline in the first place.
Research by global nonprofit Catalyst found that women are held back from the start. They fall behind men in job placement, compensation, and engagement from their first professional roles. Women also are more likely to be underemployed in their first job, so they lag behind men in pay from the beginning as well. By year two, the study found, women—but not men—begin to lose aspiration and confidence. And within 10 years, women are less likely to be promoted to a management role than their male peers (Hunter Arscott et al., 2021).
Organizations that want to develop female leaders at all levels through coaching should consider these steps:
1. Assess the damage the pandemic has had on the women in your organization and compare it with the data presented here. How many women in the organization left their jobs versus men? How many women scaled back their hours versus men? During the past year, how many women were promoted? How many men?
2. Examine your succession plan and leadership pipeline with an eye toward the long-term impact of the loss of women at all leadership levels. Include in that assessment women in your organization at risk of retiring or leaving.
3. Define your vision for this leadership coaching program and get your senior leadership team on board. Executive sponsorship is important for the successful rollout of any leadership development initiative.
4. Identify women who will benefit from leadership coaching. Expand your search beyond senior business leaders and high potentials to include women at all levels.
5. Determine which type of leadership coaching will be most appropriate for your employees. Executive-style, one-on-one coaching is among the most effective tools for professional development. Group coaching is another effective method that can encourage collaboration and communication.
6. Coaching is most effective with the support and involvement of managers. Collect feedback from managers and provide key stakeholders with visibility into the leadership coaching program. This creates a continuous feedback loop that helps drive individual and organizational performance.
7. Establish goals for the leadership coaching program and align with stakeholders on the key metrics you will use to measure progress and performance. Determine how you will collect and report on these metrics and how you will share results with critical stakeholders.
8. Secure best-in-class leadership coaches with the necessary experience, education, and training to deliver results. Different types of coaches (career coaches, business coaches, life coaches) are available, so select the right ones for your needs.
9. Establish the structure and cadence of the coaching program. Organizations often offer three-, six-, and 12-month coaching engagements depending on the outcomes they want to achieve.
10. Leverage technology to help you manage, measure and scale leadership coaching for women at all levels. Technology can also ensure more effective coach matching and accelerate the business impact. Technology may make this an attractive solution.
The pandemic didn’t create the challenges and inequities that women face. It revealed them. It magnified them. Companies need to do more to meet this moment, to undo the damage from the pandemic, and to provide a better foundation for the future. For more information about how to start building that foundation.