July 23rd, 2021

When the pandemic roared into our lives last year, for perhaps the first time in history, the struggles of the modern parent came into magnetic focus. Around the world, we saw children crawl into Zoom meetings, parents feed their families during board meetings, babies yawn during team check-ins, and the storm of toys left behind in its wake in the fuzzy background of a Google Hangout. It was the Real World, happening right before our eyes. No longer tucked into the cozy confines of school or daycare. 

As the CEO of an organization founded to support executive women, I got a front-row seat to the behind-the-scenes happenings when Covid meets boardroom meets enterprise leadership meets HR. I saw the full spectrum, from leaders near crying in exhaustion, to single mothers caught in the crossfire of homeschool and work, to stunned CEOs, to board directors who became more hands-on and strategic than ever. It was the headliner show on the global stage: women, in particular, were suffering. And they’ve been suffering for a long time.

I also saw companies who stepped up to support their women leaders during this most profound time in history. Now, here we are, in what the media is referring to as the Great Resignation. The pandemic didn’t just force us to re-examine public health and crises; it forced us to reckon with mental health, relationships, our everyday happiness. Our mortality. Workers at every level are re-thinking what it means to work, to feel valued, to live a life with purpose and passion and meaning. 

Following are a few tips for companies who are considering how to support their female leaders, of today and tomorrow. How to retain the ones you have today and value – and how to welcome the leaders of tomorrow.

Trust your team. And end the debate on remote work versus in-office, for good! Do the best for your team and realize that it may (will) vary across your organization. One individual’s needs may not match another’s. At Athena, we’ve been remote forever. We truly do not have a headquarters. But I’ve still met my team’s husbands and their kids. I’ve shared meals with them (even tears), screen to screen. Relationships can be built through the internet; meetings can be captivating through Zoom, and when you do meet in person, it makes the time so much more valuable and appreciated.

Trust your team to do what is right for them. Extend the trust and take a leap of faith to know that your team will (has to) do what is right for them and their family. If you give them that token, that respect, they will repay you a hundred times more in loyalty and hard work. This goes beyond just “remote” to speak to flexible schedules, fluid working hours, and the like. Give your team the responsibility and let them run with it.

Surround your women executives with support. This isn’t always available in-person; it was entirely impossible in a lockdown. But women leaders especially need to see other successful women leaders. As they rise through the ranks, they are increasingly isolated. Consider how you can allow your women executives opportunities to connect and network with each other, in and outside of your company. I know of several organizations that host very active women’s groups. And, of course, joining organizations like Athena makes it possible from any location in the world.

Invest in their success. If you’re serious about supporting your women leaders, you will dedicate a real budget to supporting their development, their ambitions, and to helping them realize and own their real worth and value. Coaching is a fantastic way to achieve this. It’s good for confidence, for mental health, for a human sounding board, and can address a range of issues from boardroom and advancement to difficult teams and strategic leadership.

Diversify, in every way. If you’re not talking about diversifying your leadership team and/or your board, you’re stuck. Your company will become irrelevant. Diversity of gender, perspectives, ages, functional expertise. Embrace a wide range of diverse leaders and earn immediate value in your business and with your key stakeholders. It is the best decision you can make for your business. In the same spirit, you can support your team as they seek board seats outside of your company.

Are you positioned to hold onto your senior women leaders? Athena can help you in all these areas and more. 



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