Real Perspective

Talent and Women’s Professional Advancement

Lynn Brooks
Dr. Lynn Brooks is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Villanova School of Business. Lynn and her twin sister, Dr. Donna Brooks, are also best-selling McGraw-Hill authors of three books on Leadership and Women’s Success Strategies, which have been translated into nine languages. Their research included interviews with over 100 senior leaders at multi-national firms worldwide. They have been interviewed widely by the global media, including CNN International, CNBC, the Wall St. Journal, Business Week, USA Today, and Forbes, among many others. Prior to her academic career, Lynn had a corporate career in global sales & marketing management, and was a partner of Brooks Consulting, with a Fortune 50 client list.

On June 14th The Washington Post published an article entitled “The big problem for Uber now:  Attracting talent.”  The piece alluded to the firm’s challenge in repairing its reputation for an “anything-goes, cutthroat” culture and allegations of inappropriate behavior towards women. The author underscored the need for the company’s rehabilitation to address the challenge of attracting industry talent.

That piece got me thinking about the broader issue of talent and women’s professional advancement. My review of recent reports by Catalyst, PwC, the World Economic Forum, and similar organizations revealed a number of interesting issues and proposed solutions.

First, a bit of context. Exceptional organizations recognize that a sustainable talent pipeline is crucial to innovation and competitive advantage.  As a result, these firms are seeking out promising individuals for their potential, such as learning agility, rather than simply an existing skill set and experience. The great news for women is that firms increasingly recognize the value of what are traditionally viewed as “female traits”: collaboration, creativity, and empathy to name a few. However, although many organizations have developed strategies for greater diversity and inclusion, determining metrics for success and putting those strategies into practice have proven more challenging.

So what are women looking for in an organization and its leadership, whatever their level of professional achievement?  Organizational culture plays a key role in women’s decisions to join a firm.  High on the list are the following: authenticity and transparency in an organization’s message, policies, and processes for creating an inclusive environment; a diverse leadership team with role models; and a flexible work culture with opportunities for training & development, international experiences, and promotion.

In addition, critical elements of this culture include trust and openness to feedback, as well as engaging men in the discussion on the benefits of a diverse workforce - while still acknowledging the similarities between men and women in leadership roles.

Professional women should be encouraged to seek out leadership development opportunities or “hot jobs”- highly visible, mission-critical roles that often include international exposure. Firms also should provide opportunities for high potential women to develop their leadership skill set through job rotations and sponsorships, while offering flexible work arrangements. 

Moreover, organizations can conduct a wage audit, be transparent in their pay policies, and assess their talent acquisition and retention systems for gender & diversity bias.  Finally, firms should have a plan for appointing qualified women to executive and corporate boards to demonstrate their commitment to advancing women at all levels of their organizations.

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Cheryl Carleton
Director, Villanova Women's Professional Network

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