Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO & President
Time and again, numerous studies have shown that companies with genuine gender diversity, where women are equally or even overrepresented at the senior level, are outperforming their peers. Undoubtedly, hiring women in leadership positions is not just the right thing to do; it’s also good for business.
However, surprisingly enough, many businesses are still asking one question—why are there very few women in leadership positions globally? According to a report published by Catalyst, in 2018, women accounted for 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than 11 percent of Senior Management leadership roles.
Leading Women is here to change that. Founded in 2003, the company has been an industry leader in promoting gender balance in corporate leadership through workplace culture transformation. With a mission to close the leadership gender gap, Leading Women has successfully transformed leadership teams of several organizations across diverse industries through its innovative live, virtual, and online solutions. Leading Women doesn’t limit itself to being just a leadership development organization. “We are smart business people who pay attention to the pace of business and bring new content and programs that are appropriate and relevant to the future leaders of an organization. We’re not teaching people skills that were necessary 20 years ago but teaching them what they need to be successful five years from now,” says Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO and President at Leading Women. “Every single one of us has held strategic leadership positions, and we understand how to navigate inside an organization. We bring that expertise to clients as well as our programs,” Kelly adds.
Effectively Bridging the Leadership Gender Gap
Today, even though an increasing number of organizations see the value of having more women in leadership, many of them fail to make progress in gender diversity to leverage that potential. There are many reasons, including an organization’s inability to solve issues that prevent more women from either accepting high-level positions or being considered for them. Kelly herself has had the experience of being the only woman in senior leadership during boardroom meetings. Before joining Leading Women in 2013, Kelly worked as the corporate vice president and general manager of the business unit for a consumer products company and was a part of the women’s leadership development and management consulting company in Texas. These experiences made her realize how she could help companies that were trying to bridge this leadership gender gap. According to Kelly, the problem is often attributed to the company culture, policy, or the lack of understanding of the balance that a company needs with gender in their leadership team. “We remove the obstacles and barriers in the organization that prevent women from reaching senior leadership roles. This is not just through delivering effective leadership development programs but also consulting and partnering with clients to help them understand and solve the underlying problems,” says Kelly.
A crucial step in achieving this involves helping companies build inclusive environments. Leading Women has developed several programs to help companies nurture a better understanding of women’s capabilities, and fix the culture. With its programs around Gender Dynamics, Leading Women helps senior leaders become more aware of the problems their talent decisions create.
We don’t prescribe a one size fits all solution. Our leadership programs are customized in line with a company’s strategy, their financials, leadership models, competencies, and more, to make sure that the participants are gaining the knowledge they need in that company
In many cases, these decisions can act as a roadblock for women’s advancement in the company, and they need to be brought to the leaders’ attention. Along with this, Leading Women works with women who have been identified as “high-potential” in a company, and help them develop the skillset they need specifically around business, strategy, and financial acumen.
For example, Leading Women has created a six-month reverse mentoring program, which involves pairing junior women employees with a more senior male executive. Through regular, semi-structured conversations, the program aims at providing the candidates with a perspective about the roles of a manager. “They go through a learning process of what it’s like to be a woman at a manager level today versus the experiences the male leaders had 20 years ago. It has been a significant supportive program in developing male allies, and helping move the organization to become more inclusive for women leaders,” explains Kelly.
Outperforming Competitors with its Expertise
Leading Women provides solutions for developing women leaders at every level, Gender Dynamics (unconscious bias and the impact on talent decisions) education for managers, as well as the analysis of talent and performance systems for hidden gender bias. The company’s proprietary research is the base of its innovative solutions. “We have done our research on Gender Dynamics for the last 17 years, and it has provided us with the knowledge that we need to create the right solution. We have researched the skills and competencies required by senior leadership to identify the potential successor to an executive,” states Kelly. According to her, executives look for business, strategic, and financial acumen while determining whether a woman can lead the business. Leading Women’s research has found that very few women are clearly told about how essential these skills are in their career progression and in reaching top executive positions. It also indicated that more often than not, women lack the above-mentioned skillset as they aren’t given enough opportunity to develop these skills due to most executives’ presumed notions about women. This creates a gap in the overall skills and expertise of women, which counts to 33 percent, termed as “The Missing 33 percent” in the research.
Kelly asserts that Leading Women doesn’t offer a generic public enrollment program where companies can take a casual approach to leadership development. Instead, the company provides private leadership development programs based on an organization’s requirements. “We don’t prescribe a one size fits all solution. Our leadership programs are customized in line with a company’s strategy, their financials, leadership models, competencies, and more, to make sure that the participants are gaining the knowledge they need in that company,” explains Kelly.
Leading Women also provides consulting services to identify the right solutions. From offering multi-module programs that are live and virtual to strictly virtual programs where seats are unlimited, Leading Women creates programs as per the client’s needs.
“Through our consultative and collaborative approach, we ensure that high-performing women are moving consistently through your leadership pipeline,” states Kelly.
We've developed unique instructor-led virtual learning programs that have allowed us to deliver leadership development online
This unique approach, along with the quality of its leadership programs, has helped Leading Women garner tremendous traction in the market. Success stories of several global customers from various business verticals stand as a testament to it. One such success story involves a large global organization with over 30,000 employees. With a traditional leadership development program in place, the company was struggling to promote women into director-level roles. They had a major issue in getting women through their hierarchal pipeline. Even with 32 percent of their college hires as women, the company was unable to retain them. Leading Women engaged with the client and checked all the data of women at different levels to identify areas that were witnessing a significant drop-off. Leading Women’s experts worked with the organization’s learning and development team to create a program specifically for those levels and made an effective succession plan. Today, the company has a group of women at the director level within the organization, who have become more successful than ever before.
Making Virtual Leadership Programs an Ultimate Reality
Kelly believes that the current global situation caused by the Coronavirus outbreak is going to change the concept of the workplace as a whole. There has been a growing demand to support leadership development in a virtual method as more companies increasingly recognize and accept working virtually as a norm. Against this backdrop, Leading Women has been offering virtual programs in leadership development, mentoring, and diversity and inclusion. “We’ve developed unique instructor-led virtual learning programs that have allowed us to deliver leadership development online and do it in a way that takes very little away from the live experience. It allows our clients to utilize our programs wherever they are in the world,” says Kelly.
Learning Women has also created a virtual mentoring program to assist the women who are going through the leadership development programs themselves. “By having mentors assigned to them from their companies, we help them broaden their learning impact. We teach these mentors virtually on how to be good mentors to these women so that it enhances their leadership development over time,” explains Kelly.
Last fall Leading Women launched its Conference Services Division which allows organizations to choose single-session or full days of the company’s most requested leadership development content, to be delivered live or virtually at their organization’s small or large-scale meetings and events. Currently, the company is working on a multi-module online self-directed leadership program. Based on its research, Leading Women plans to deliver content in an agile way that will allow the newer generations entering the workforce to learn at their own pace. These employees expect the opportunity for development in their job from day one. Leading Women is creating that opportunity so that companies can cascade the leadership further down into their organization and retain employees at the same time. “The complementary programs that we’ve created to help organizations transform their culture, and senior leaders to recognize how to be more inclusive of women, are also going to play a crucial role in helping organizations succeed,” concludes Kelly.