The Norwegian experience has important lessons for the EU. Key among them is that success depends on a mixture of regulatory and self-regulatory measures such as women’s leadership programmes. The Norwegian business confederation’s ‘female future’ programme helps companies recruit and train women leaders. Companies across the EU could follow that example to nurture women in management positions, ready for board assignments.

Aside from female talent selection and placement, the development of female leadership talent is a key game changer to increase the number of women on board level. According to Regina  Eckert of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a world leader in executive education, there are four key components of effective  women’s leadership development:

1.      Promote women’s networks

CCL research shows that effective leaders are those who can build and leverage high-quality relationships and networks. Good leaders understand others at work and have a good sense of what is going on around them. They use their influence to get the resources they and their team need to function effectively. Yet women leaders often don’t have the same strength or reach of networks as their male counterparts do. This is where development can help: building women’s networks across functions and levels can help women become effective leaders and support organizational goals.

2.      Set up a mentorship programme

Pairing women with leadership potential with mentors (male and female) who work in other areas of the company can help them raise their visibility, build networks and refine their leadership skills. Research by CCL and other organizations has shown that learning from other people, especially role models and mentors, is the second most powerful source of development and learning. However, women often lack role models and mentors, particularly because they are sometimes hesitant to seek these out proactively. Including male mentors in the scheme has the added benefit of promoting awareness among male leaders who can also open doors they previously did not even realize were closed to female colleagues.

3.      Develop a career management structure promoting self-awareness and confidence, based on constructive feedback

Women’s exclusion from the ‘inner circle’ of influence in the workplace is often reinforced by a lack of self-confidence and the perceived need to prove themselves first, rather than believing in their own potential. The CCL women’s leadership programme has as its centerpiece increasing self-awareness, to give confidence and ability to lead and advance in the work environment. Creating structures which ensure women managers receive timely, realistic feedback about their performance is key.

 4.      Promote work-life balance

Women’s role within the family is often seen by companies and women themselves as an obstacle to their career development. However, CCL research shows that family and work roles are complementary, not contradictory: Managers who are committed to their parenting responsibilities are seen as better leaders. Skills learnt in the family (multi-tasking, negotiation, helping others to develop) are directly relevant to effective performance as a senior workplace manager. Organizations that are serious about retaining women and getting the most from them need to take steps to counter the prejudice that family and career cannot be combined.

About the Center for Creative Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership is a top-ranked, global provider of executive education that accelerates strategy and business results by unlocking the leadership potential of individuals and organizations. Founded in 1970 as a nonprofit, educational institution and focused exclusively on leadership education and research, CCL helps clients worldwide cultivate creative leadership – the capacity to achieve more than imagined by thinking and acting beyond boundaries – through an array of programs, products and other services.