Press Coverage - Allwork.Space Jan 2022

How Can Organizations Create Women’s Leadership Programs That Actually Make A Difference?

We need bold actions to address burnout among women and we cannot make strides to close the gender gap one woman at a time. Real change can only come at a systematic level. Large, big change.

  • To retain and empower female leaders, organizations need to change their approach to women’s leadership programs.  
  • Audrey McGuckin has identified 14 corporate system levers that, when not operating correctly, hold women back. 
  • Allwork.Space spoke with Audrey McGuckin, CEO of The McGuckin Group, to learn more about what companies can do to (truly) retain and empower female leaders.

In order to retain women leaders, there are some ways in which organizations can create women’s leadership programs that actually make a difference. 

Most organizations create a program that gives women in the organization a feeling of being involved but it doesn’t actually move the needle. It doesn’t result in women being promoted. It doesn’t change what’s happening with the corporate system.  

The focus is on fixing the women, but Audrey McGuckin, The McGuckin Group CEO, believes this doesn’t work, and gives the example of the 4 million women who’ve left the workforce in the past 18 months. 

McGuckin has spent 30 years in talent development and works with a variety of companies like Amazon, Intel, TechData, and Cracker Barrel.  

McGuckin recently started a women’s leadership program Women On Their Way, based on a new approach to developing women leaders.  

She has identified 14 corporate system levers that, when not operating correctly, hold women back. It involves working with companies to change their systems, while also coaching women on how to navigate the entire system effectively.  

McGuckin believes strongly that it’s not about fixing the women, and that it’s only when you fix the system and empower the women that change can occur. 

Allwork.Space spoke with Audrey McGuckin, CEO of The McGuckin Group, to learn more about what companies can do to retain and empower female leaders.  

Allwork.Space: Why did four million women leave the workforce in the past 18 months? What could have been done to retain them? 

Audrey McGuckin: Nearly half of all women say the pandemic has negatively impacted their career path, according to a MetLife survey of 2,000 U.S. workers conducted in September. Nearly 1 in 5 women say they’ve been pushed out of the labor force altogether. 

There’s a number of factors that have driven women from the workplace in droves, but the main challenge employers have been facing is burnout.  

New data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company shows that the gap between women and men who feel burned out has nearly doubled — and that disparity is driving more women to consider downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether.  

We are finding all of this to be true in the work we do at Women On Their Way (WOTW). Women are burned out and employers need to change their ways. 

Women also carry the weight of caregiving responsibilities and continue to do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare throughout the pandemic compared to men, but on top of these obvious drivers of burnout, we see that women are taking on more work in the office around employee wellbeing, as well as advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which means their workloads are just going up and up. 

Allwork.Space: Do you believe this could have been prevented? If so, what could companies have done to retain them? What are some key things women are looking for? 

 In terms of retention, women are looking for increased flexibility and career progression opportunities. What we hear from the women we work with is that they are also making choices on who they work for based on: 

  • Loving what they do 
  • Tailored benefits 
  • Personal and professional development 
  • The company’s investment in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs 
  • If the leaders provide specific feedback that will allow them to grow and flourish 

We recommend that employers take a very thoughtful and personal approach to these important issues if they want to retain women. 

Allwork.Space: How can organizations create women’s leadership programs that actually make a difference to the bottom line and retain women leaders? 

 First, executives should ask themselves – who are my women leaders? Then they need to take the time to learn about these women in their organization. Study them, ask them what they need, and explore what it will take to have them stay. 

We help clients do this through empathy interviews where we create personas of women leaders within an organization. We then leverage these personas to build the right solutions and offerings for their employees. The solutions have to be context-rich or they don’t hit the mark. When organizations get this right, we see dramatic results in terms of retention and even attraction of women leaders into their organization. 

Allwork.Space: You’ve identified 14 corporate system levers that when not operating correctly hold women back. What are these levers? 

In my 30+ years of working with CEOs and HR leaders, I’ve identified the 14 corporate levers that when working correctly move the needle on DEI programs. When they are not working, that’s what I call a system failure: the system within that company does not support the growth of its women leaders. 

Changing the levers can actually alter the way women are treated within an organization. This empowers not only women but all of the leaders within the organization. They can then change the way they support women in their company. 

While I cannot give away the secret to all 14 levers, I can share a few of them with you: 

  1. Stop focusing on fixing the women: Most organizations have DEI programs that are targeted at fixing the women. Not the system, but the actual women. Sorry guys, that’s not going to work. How do I know this? I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, from Fortune 100 down to start-ups. I’ve seen the mistakes companies make when they attempt to fix the women. They introduce DEI programs that don’t move the needle. They throw money at women’s leadership, yet it doesn’t change a thing.

Why? Because their systems are broken and you can’t fix something that’s broken if you focus elsewhere. It’s like trying to fix the driving habits of a bad driver who wrecked your car. Your car is still broken even if you teach that driver to drive. 

  1. Pride of ownership in DEI programs stalls progress: We get it. People love to own their programs. But if the program isn’t working, you need to innovate and fix it. WOTW uncovers where ownership is stalling and then we help you fix the real issues.
  2. Offer mentoring instead of sponsorship: Mentorship and sponsorship are two different things. Sponsors are focused on providing connections for higher-profile opportunities, rather than just giving advice. Sponsorship is a large part of navigating “the system” and one of the most important shifts a woman leader can make.
  3. Vague feedback: One of the greatest systemic problems is that most women are given vague feedback. As a woman leader you can create an environment with your coworkers and managers where you welcome and receive very specific feedback. Frank feedback that gives you the opportunity to hit the mark next time.
  4. Mindsets of executives: Your executive team needs to be self-aware. They need to be ready to change and adapt to new ways of working and thinking. It’s only then that real change can occur. WOTW works with companies to uncover the mindsets of their executives that they may not even be aware of.
  5. Mindsets of women leaders: There may be pre-established mindsets with the women on your team that hold your programs back. We recently worked with a company where the most senior woman wasn’t self-aware enough to know she needed to change. She didn’t support the work we are doing. And you know what happened? We uncovered that and tried to work with her, but she refused to change. She was then passed up for the next promotion because she didn’t want to change anything about her approach.

Allwork.Space: How is your approach different from other leaders? 

Women On Their Way (WOTW) is the only organization that approaches leadership from a systems level. Corporate systems are broken and it’s only when we identify, name and work to update those systems that real change happens. Only once those systems are changed can we start to close the gender gap. 

My proprietary method of looking at the 14 levers is unique. I’ve used it to revamp large Fortune 100 companies, as well as small start-ups. It’s an approach that looks at fixing your broken systems. There’s no other approach like it. I see it time and time again that generic programs just don’t work. You have to do the hard work to change. 

Allwork.Space: What does the future of work look like for women/women leaders?  

 While companies have signaled their commitment to DEI efforts amid increased calls for racial justice across the country, women leaders have shouldered DEI efforts more often than their male colleagues — but they are not getting formal recognition for this work.  

The Women in the Workplace report found that women leaders are more likely than men at the same level to champion DEI efforts outside of their normal job responsibilities: 1 in 5 women senior leaders spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work that is not central to their core jobs. 

The World Economic Forum says it’s going to take 108 years to close the gender gap at the current rate. I don’t know about you, but that’s unacceptable to me. That’s why I’ve devoted my life to encouraging and empowering women.  

We need bold actions to address burnout among women and we cannot make strides to close the gender gap one woman at a time. Real change can only come at a systematic level. Large, big change.  

That’s what I’d like to see in the future so that women can rise to the top and become the leaders the world needs them to be. My goal for the future is that all CEOs recognize this need for change and open themselves up to real work. 



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