To advance women managers it’s not enough to simply know what their career aims are, leaders need to know what challenges women are experiencing and put solutions in place to overcome them. This is something leaders can do from the moment a woman joins the organization. 

In 2018, I interviewed Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and CEO and founder of Thrive Global, to discuss how companies can better support employees with their individual needs and career aims. In the interview, Huffington shared an important practice she undertakes with every new employee within Thrive Global: entry interviews. These are informal conversations new hires have with their managers shortly after they first join an organization. The aim is for managers to get to know their employees and what matters to employees outside of work. It’s also an opportunity to get to know their new hires, to understand their career ambitions and any difficulties they face in achieving these goals—like integrating work and home life. 

Typically, organizations only understand the importance of these conversations once an employee has resigned. This normally takes the form of a traditional exit interview where employees are asked about their reasons for leaving, but by this point it’s too late. Conducting entry interviews is something every single leader can do; by taking the time to meet with new employees, and in particular women, the leader can come to understand how to best support them to succeed. 

In our conversation, Huffington shared an example of when an employee told her that dropping her daughter off at school every morning was really important to her, but she worried about managing this with the morning team meetings. Knowing this, Huffington made sure team meetings were rescheduled to later in the day. Engaging in meaningful dialogue gives managers the opportunity to identify how they can take small steps like this to remove the invisible barriers. 

Conducting entry interviews is a great way for leaders to demonstrate that they value women from the get-go. But career conversations are never a one-off event. As women’s careers progress, they enter different phases, and are likely to experience different barriers. Career conversations should be an ongoing dialogue that starts with an initial entry interview but continues with regular one-on-one meetings to review the different challenges women are encountering. In these conversations leaders could include the following questions:

  • How would you describe the organizational or team culture? 
  • Do you have any needs that are not being met at work? 
  • What aspects of the team do you enjoy? 
  • Do you feel leaders in the team demonstrate behaviors that are aligned to corporate values? Can you share an example? 
  • What is the most challenging aspect of your job? 
  • Have you witnessed or participated in an inequality moment recently that you feel comfortable sharing? 
  • Do you see a career path for yourself in this organization and what does this look like? What career aims do you have for the next six to twelve months?
  • What are some of the barriers that you experience or anticipate experiencing in the next six to twelve months? 
  • What solutions do you think could be put in place to overcome these challenges? Is there anything I can do to remove some of these barriers? 
  • How do you think the team can make more of an effort to value the contributions of everyone? 
  • What is the one thing you would change about the culture if you could?

These one-on-one exchanges provide rich information that leaders can use to not only help women advance but also to track opportunities for improving the culture. This practice is a meaningful way to support women’s career advancement and it sends a message to all employees that leaders take equality seriously. 

There will always be employees who resist equality efforts. This comes up every time employees deny, roadblock, or disengage with the process of change. 

While resistance is a normal part of any change in management process, it often signals a lack of understanding or denial. When employees don’t know why changes are needed or what is being asked of them, it’s easy to resist. But when employees understand the difficulties their colleagues face this makes it harder to disengage from the change efforts and what is being asked of them.

From THE FIX: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work by Michelle P. King. Copyright © 2020 by Michelle King. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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