Organisations across the globe are looking to improve their diversity and inclusion efforts. Women remain underrepresented in the corporate pipeline, despite many efforts to aid their advancement, such as designing women leadership development programmes.
This is recognised by both industry experts and researchers in the field of career management and leadership development. Literature has demonstrated that men have been able to advance due to the adoption of different behaviours associated with social capital. It appears that men are better networkers than women and this has worked in their favour. This is not to say women can’t network, but the research certainly suggests that women can do with more support.
It is of great importance to embark on a study to explore why women still remain underrepresented at senior management level within corporations, particularly those who are in male-dominated environments. The study needs to investigate the role that leadership development interventions such as coaching can play in enabling women to make use of social capital, strategic networking, accessing mentorship and sponsorship.
I recently devised a conceptual framework to illustrate the interplay between leadership development programmes which incorporate coaching, women’s preferences and values, use of social capital and abilities and behaviours and their outcomes in relation to career advancement.
This was inspired by research I conducted. Data was collected from qualitative interviews conducted with senior female managers. They had participated in a women’s leadership development programme and coaching that appreciated the concept of social capital. A case study method was used which enabled all these variables to be explored. The findings showed that women’s preferences and values and their abilities and behaviours limited their career advancement. It was only after they had attended a leadership programme that trained them in various social capital modules and participated in coaching that focused on their career advancement, that they started to adopt behaviours associated with social capital. Additional findings also showed that a systemic approach to women’s career advancement is critical given the role that other factors, such as discrimination, play in limiting the advancement of women in the workplace.
The study recommends that, in order to facilitate the coaching experience and outcomes pertaining to career advancement, coaches need to understand the competencies that women need to adopt to make use of social capital. Further, the study recommends that human resources practitioners can make use of the findings to design leadership development programmes differently. Human resources practitioners are also encouraged to include men in their diversity and inclusion initiatives to address matters of discrimination in the workplace.
Coaches can consider specialisation in gender diversity and inclusion. It is apparent that there is an opportunity for coaches to specialise in the area of diversity in the workplace with a focus on women. According to research conducted by Ibarra (2016), behaviours associated with social capital as strategic networking, are harder to adopt in industries like investment banking, where women are in the minority. Ibarra (2016) also referred to lazy networking meaning that individuals are likely to adopt networking that isn’t being adopted for means such as understanding the world around us better.
It is therefore important for coaches to facilitate the deliberate intention behind the adoption of the behaviours associated with social capital. Based on the study, these behaviours require skills such as political skill, courage, building networks, being resilient, self-awareness and social confidence. Parker and Kram (1993) demonstrated how certain competencies associated with social capital can be trained. It is therefore recommended that coaches incorporate these competencies into the outcomes of the coaching experience. The following is a list of the competencies that enable social capital for senior managers. They can be provided to coaches to support their specialisation:
Political skill. The ability to understand others at work and to use that knowledge to influence them to act in ways that enhance personal objectives;
Courage. Stepping up to address the difficult issues and saying what needs to be said particularly where something is being covered up;
Building networks. Personal, strategic and operational aspects. Creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information. Ensuring coordination and cooperation among people who have to know and trust one another in order to accomplish their immediate tasks. Examples of personal connections are associations, alumni groups, clubs, and personal interest communities;
Being resilient. Rebounding from setback and adversity when facing difficult situations and positively adapting to difficult situations (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009);
Demonstrate self-awareness> A combination of feedback and reflection to gain productive insight into personal strengths and weaknesses (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009).