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Closing The Leadership Development Gap for Women

My now retired father-in-law told once me that he learned how to be a leader from informal coaching he received from his boss at the bar after work. Several years ago, this wasn’t all that uncommon. Men held the majority of leadership roles so coaching and mentoring happened in the meeting rooms, at work check-ins, or even at the bar.

When I was in corporate, we’d promote people from employee to leader and we just assumed a magic transformation would happen - that they’d shed the identity they had as a doer, and transform into a leader who was comfortable coaching, delegating and making hard decisions.

As a former leader of training and leadership development programs, I admit I could have done a better job of recognizing the difficulty of this mindset shift and the support required to be successful at the next level.

So if you just made a career leap or earned a big promotion work, what support can you expect to ensure your success as a leader?

  • A DDI report, which featured input from more than 15,000 leaders and more than 2,000 human resources directors, found men are 13% more likely to receive leadership skills training than women. Men are also 22% more likely than women to be paired up with a formal mentor.

  • 22% more men than women participate in leadership development (LD) programs – that’s nearly a quarter more of the workforce.

  • 58% more women than men have to ask to be included in LD opportunities. The biggest group is women in upper management – 67% of who have to self-advocate for more development.

  • Women reported significantly lower rates of opportunity to receive coaching from their employer. We found that while 22% of men have been given access to coaching through their employer, only 16% of women have offered similar opportunities.

It's time to close the leadership development gap for women, and employers can take the lead.

Two ways employers can work to close the gap:

  1. Offer a standard onboarding track for newly hired leaders and promoted leaders including a mix of coaching/training/mentoring. By offering these leaders the support they need, the benefits can include reduced turnover and improved time to effectiveness.

  2. Offer reimbursement. Sometimes, there are not enough internal resources (time, money or programs) to generate this level of support. If this is the case, another effective option I've seen employers choose is to offer a stipend to newly hired leaders so they can invest their development through outside coaching or training.

Two things women can do:

  1. Ask for support. Whether it’s inquiring on internal resources or asking for a reimbursement to cover your investment in personal leadership development resources, it pays to choose yourself. Not only for your own leadership skills, but through the readiness and results you can provide the organization.

  2. Be the change. Create support networks or encourage programs in your organization to help foster leadership development and mentoring needed for new leaders, especially women and minorities, who may not have benefitted from as much leadership development training.

Several studies have shown, including the McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, that organizations realize a 50% increase in profit when women are well-represented at the top. Closing the leadership gap isn't just the right thing to do to level the playing field for women leaders, it's great economic decision, too.

Join the conversation! I recently talked about this on LinkedIn live. Check it out and drop your favorite tips to help support newly promoted or hired leaders at work.


Kelli Thompson is a women's leadership coach and speaker. Her programs help women advance with clarity and confidence so they can make their impact in the rooms where decisions are made. She is the 2021 Stevie Award winner for women in business - coach of the year.

Need help closing the gap? Learn more about Kelli's programs:

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