I'm not a big football fan. I've never made it through a full game. But during the few moments that I sat down to watch the Super Bowl this past year, it wasn’t the action on the field that caught my attention. Rather, it was that Proctor and Gamble ad – that now famous "Like a Girl" campaign – that kept me in my seat. For me, that P&G ad hit the mark in ways that many female empowerment initiatives don't do – it reframed the conversation. It took a phrase that we normally hear used only to demean and deride, either consciously or not, and flipped it on its head. And it did so in front of a large and male dominated audience.
That's exactly what we need to do with female leadership development in our current workplace. While there are many elements of current leadership programs that we should lift up and reinforce, they too often sidestep the specific leadership qualities that are naturally strong in women and that lead to more holistic, thoughtful, and engaged leadership. The benefit is clear: Institutions that have women at the top are stronger organizations – corporate boards with female representation have stock prices that perform 26% better than all-male Boards. Still, there are 36% of boards that have no female representation at all!
As one response to this leadership development challenge in the corporate world, more and more employers are building skills-based volunteering initiatives designed as on-the-ground experiential leadership programs targeted to their female talent. Through these initiatives, female employees bring their skills to bear through volunteer efforts that boost their engagement, company loyalty, and confidence, and the nonprofit organizations they’re supporting provide environments that help transform the natural strengths of female employees into the success factors that drive long term business growth.
Study after study has shown that women tend to be stronger influencers in environments where they don't have formal power – using an inclusive, team-building approach to getting work done and decisions made. In nonprofit environments, that approach is a way of life. Nonprofit leaders have to figure out how to align a diverse group of stakeholders, with a broad spectrum of interests, behind a single vision. Without significant financial incentives, the staff, Board of Directors, funders, clients, and partners of a nonprofit need to be deeply invested in its success to survive. One of Common Impact's long-time corporate clients recently paired an all-female team of executives to an organization focused on STEM education for girls. Coming out of the engagement, the team lead turned to the appreciative Executive Director of the nonprofit and said, "You opened my eyes as to how to influence and inspire people. I can't tell you how invaluable that will be for me when I walk into the office on Monday."
Earlier this month at the International Women’s Day forum, Tina Tchen, Executive Director of The White House Council on Women and Girls, said "Women leaders are the most resilient actors in the workforce – especially women of color – because they've had to overcome so much to get to where they are." Resiliency and grit are important skills for any leader, but for women who are building their careers, the ability to bounce back from setbacks often driven by subtle or implicit gender bias, or adapting to life’s curveballs while simultaneously pursuing career and family dreams, are attributes key to their success. Skills-based volunteer efforts put a face on resiliency. They put employees in the seats of nonprofit executives who are staring down growing social challenges every day and designing solutions to meet those challenges. And while those executives know that they likely won't see the resolution of those social challenges tomorrow, next year or – often – even in their lifetimes, they understand the larger vision and keep working to drive change and make a difference.