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The importance of HR initiatives in supporting women in leadership 

Less than a third of leadership positions are held by women, LinkedIn data suggests. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take around 140 years to close that gap completely.  

Throughout history, women have faced significant challenges in reaching leadership positions, including gender biases, stereotypes and unequal opportunities. These obstacles have created a glass ceiling, which has hindered women’s professional advancements. In several industries, that glass ceiling still exists. Spotlighting these inequalities in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goal for the month of March, 'Gender Equality', and International Women’s Day, continues to be crucial in our mission for advancing towards a prosperous, sustainable world.  

HR and International Women's Day

Therefore, the role HR plays in supporting and developing female leaders is crucial, empowering the next generation of change-makers. HR initiatives can provide people who identify as women in the workforce with the necessary skills, networking opportunities, and visibility required in the corporate world, preparing them for leadership roles and enriching organisations with diverse perspectives, leading to better decision-making and innovation.  

Challenging biases 

HR initiatives play a crucial role in addressing the unique challenges faced by women in the workplace. Balancing work and personal life, navigating maternity leave, and combating biases require tailored strategies. Initiatives such as mentorship programmes, leadership development courses, and flexible work arrangements not only empower women but also show a dedication to their physical, mental and emotional health.

What do inclusive cultures really look like?

Moreover, initiatives that challenge existing biases are pivotal in dismantling the pervasive stereotypes that often impede women's progress in leadership roles. HR professionals should work with business leaders to actively challenge and change ingrained perceptions to creating a level playing field. Gender sensitivity programmes, diversity training and targeted awareness campaigns are effective in breaking down preconceived notions, which hinder women from advancing into leadership positions. HR plays a critical role in shaping an organisation's narrative through crafting policies and transforming culture. 

Thriving with diversity and inclusion 

The cultivation of a workplace culture that thrives on diversity and inclusion is also key. Beyond policies and programmes, it is about fostering an ethos where different perspectives are not just tolerated but celebrated. Inclusive workplaces are more innovative, resilient, and better equipped to adapt to the fast-paced changes in today's business environment.  

Indeed, the economic case for women in leadership is compelling. Studies consistently show a positive correlation between gender-diverse leadership teams and improved financial performance. Organisations that prioritise gender equality and invest in HR initiatives to support women in leadership benefit from a broader talent pool, while gaining a competitive edge in the market.

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HR initiatives, therefore, become instrumental in shaping the DNA of an organisation. Supporting female leaders is not just about compliance with diversity mandates, it is about unlocking the full spectrum of talent available, tapping into a diverse pool of skills, experiences, and perspectives that drive innovation and enhance decision-making processes.  

Upskilling and elevating 

We must equip future leaders with the most in-demand skills in strategic leadership, emotional intelligence and digital proficiency. This will allow them to contribute effectively to high-level decision-making and drive meaningful impact. Development programmes in executive coaching, negotiation skills, and mentorship will further empower women to navigate the workplace and pursue authoritative roles. Technical proficiency, especially in emerging technologies, will enhance adaptability, positioning individuals as mission-driven innovators, gaining future-ready skills. 

HR as a catalyst for change 

When it comes to supporting women in leadership, HR initiatives are the catalyst for change. Creating a work environment that values merit and ability over gender-based biases. One that breaks down barriers and shatters any glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching their full potential. By actively promoting equal opportunities and advocating for a diverse leadership pipeline, HR professionals become the architects of a culture that values talent irrespective of gender. 

By Dr Maren Ingrid Kropfeld, programme director for Tomorrow University’s Impact MBA, and professor of Sustainability and Entrepreneurship