The number of women serving at the highest levels of leadership in all sectors of corporate America can be discouraging, but companies in financial services have an even worse track record, despite the evidence that a diverse workforce increases a company’s performance. That’s why we’re excited to have Kristina Pool, partner and COO of The Middleton Advisory Group, speak at our engage.talent summit on Feb. 6.
Pool has a breadth of experience in corporate administration, including in health care, real estate, and mortgage, with a special focus on operations and business development. She will be speaking on Recruiting and Retaining Women in Leadership Roles, and sat down with HousingWire ahead of the summit to give us a sneak peek into the topic.
HousingWire: What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to recruiting women into leadership roles?
Kristina Pool: In my opinion, experience (or what we consider or perceive to be experience by our individual perception) is the biggest hurdle. In nearly every company, prior experience leading is a huge requirement for even qualifying for leadership roles, yet women are rarely given the opportunity to lead – or aren’t given the titles associated with leaders – so any leadership experience they may have doesn’t show up on paper.
Additionally, lack of experience, leads to loss of further leadership opportunities. You may have a woman who is actually a phenomenal leader, but who will never be hired into a leadership position because she won’t even be considered for the role without previous leadership experience. So you might see those making the decisions to hire say ‘no’ right up front, rather than seek out the character traits and skillsets that make a great leader. The risk for them is seemingly too great.
I think another hurdle is whether or not hiring females is a priority to your existing leadership and whether you are actively seeking to make a change to existing stereotypes and prejudices. Whether it is about equality or diversity in the workplace – if you aren’t paying attention to trends, to sub-conscious or deliberate preferences, you will be less likely to seek out that diversity in your hiring efforts and will inevitably pass up women for roles they are more than qualified to succeed in.
HW: How has this challenge changed over the last 5 years or so?
KP: There has been a tremendous amount of change in the past five and even 10 years. The advancements in technology and information, the ability to expose sexism in the workplace, even terms like ‘glass ceiling’ are becoming both more mainstream and yet obsolete in many ways. I say ‘mainstream’ in the sense that knowledge is now available at our fingertips, and in a split second we can become more aware of obstacles women have faced in the past and today, and with that awareness comes change.
Having women in c-suite leadership has also changed dramatically in major well-known brands in the past 30 years, so we are looking at our current workforce having seen women in high positions for some time now – think of Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico, or Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Frito Lay and Kraft Foods – powerful women leading some of the world’s largest brands. These changes help to broaden more archaic views of women and help to create future equalities for women in the workplace.
Obviously, there is so much more to this and even more that still needs to be done in regards to seeing more women in leadership roles. I think more than anything, we can and should celebrate positive change, draw attention to it in order to break down perceptions and prejudice, and continue to push for women to stand up and lead rather than take a back seat or falter due to push back or even failure.
HW: What factors are different for retaining women than men in these roles?
KP: Again, experience is a huge factor. Men are given more opportunities regardless of experience, and once in a role, women without experience are held more accountable to that lack of experience. Men are also still respected more by other men (and yes, even women) than females in the same roles. I think traditionally, men have been seen as more authoritarian and as “head of the household,” and those same perceptions — whether conscious or sub-conscious — bleed over into the professional sphere.
Failures also hit harder. I have seen women promoted or hired into leadership roles and although the standard and expectation may be the same for both men and women (although they might actually be greater for women in the same roles), the failure to meet those standards is almost less forgivable when a woman fails. To make things even more complex, those failures also contribute to a greater lack of respect for women than men.
I think that goes back to respect and perception. Because of these issues, women get burnt out quicker, they feel less satisfied in their roles, they often feel they have to try harder just to validate being in those roles. Studies have shown that women are three times as likely to resign from leadership roles, and that is largely due to the fact that expectations for women – both in the workplace and in the home – are different than those placed on their male counterparts.
When you add it all up – a lack of respect, more responsibility, higher and disproportionate standards and expectations, less recognition and opportunities for promotion, as well as far less pay than their male counterparts – it’s pretty clear why retaining women in leadership roles is and will continue to be a challenge.
HW: You wrote on LinkedIn that a business’ success depends on both the capability and the happiness of their employees. In your experience, what kinds of things contribute to employee happiness, beyond salary?
KP: I think respect is huge. Respect translates and is shown in so many ways. When you respect your employees, you listen to them, you make decisions in their interest, you allow them to grow in healthy ways, and you create realistic expectations for them. I read recently that nearly every employee will essentially reach a plateau where they are actually underqualified for the position they are in, due to employers constantly over-utilizing and essentially overworking employees who excel.
If and when this happens, employee satisfaction inevitably suffers because the employee who is now is no longer excelling begins to lose excitement for the work they are responsible for and also begins to struggle under the weight of the expectations being placed on them.
It’s natural and important to push your employees towards excellence, but there’s also a balance in understanding that when they do excel, that’s likely the best place for them to be until they’re ready to take on more. Respecting your employees means understanding this and taking care to protect what’s going well rather than continually push for more.
I think when employees feel heard, and when they are heard, this also brings about a great sense of happiness from their work. We have to remember that we spend so much of our lives working, to have unhappy employees is to essentially be okay with – and this may sound extreme – ruining the lives of your people.
I think that it is every bit our responsibility as leaders to make sure our employees are happy, and that starts with respect and making sure we are listening and taking action to protect them. If you don’t protect your employees, you aren’t protecting your company, and you’re setting the table for failure.