The Fundamentals of Launching Women into Leadership Opportunities

Valerie is currently the CEO and owner of Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC. in which she offers Life, Leadership, and Career coaching for women as well as various Management and Human Resource consulting services such as program development, management, and evaluation, human resource audits, and employee handbook and other policy developments.

As an Executive Career and Leadership Coach for women, leadership development is very important to me. There are also a lot of organizations focusing on their efforts to attract and retain women. Networking groups for women have been popping up for women as well. We are also hearing more and more about companies where women want to work, spotlights on up-and-coming women, and the most powerful women.

As we know, all of this has not really translated into progress and results for women. We still do not hold a majority of leadership positions in the public or private sectors. It was back in 2014 when I originally covered the topic of gender inequality in public service. Now as an Executive Coach, I can attest to the fact that leadership development for women in the public sector is in fact, lacking.

What Are the Barriers?

According to the OECD, there are a range of barriers keeping women out of top-level positions in the public sector. They include: cultural, structural, self-imposed, and lack of accountability measurements. The cultural barriers include the association of management and leadership positions as a “man’s world”. It is also important to consider the terms used to describe leadership itself: strength, ambition, decisiveness. These qualities are typically more readily ascribed to men rather than women. It is important to use specific skills to describe the position. Structural barriers include the lack of work-life balance, limited flexible working arrangements, and lack of support and networks to continue development. The need for accountability is important. Each organization must develop a measurement to improve women’s access to leadership as well as another for retention/ advancement.

The self-imposed barriers do not surprise me at all. Those derive from gender differences, limited self-promotion, and lack of self-confidence. The limited self-promotion and lack of self-confidence are both barriers that I have been working with my clients on breaking down. We are conditioned to behave a certain way and when we do not behave in that way, it is outside of our norms. This is also when it becomes easy for women to judge other women and we stop promoting each other as well.

This is the most crucial time for women’s voices to be heard. Women inside the White House are being paid like it’s 1980 and we’re not advancing gender diversity like it’s 2017.


Why Leadership Development Fails

First and foremost, it shouldn’t be about meeting a quota. Gender diversity in leadership should be about analyzing the data and tracking the progress that has and hasn’t been made. How have women been promoted as a result of hiring and retention efforts? How many are actually being advanced as a result of leadership development and recruitment efforts? How is the face of leadership in the public sector changing each year? Also, programs are beneficial. While many state and local governments have strapped budgets, I believe that this is something that can be done by lifting each other forward individually as well. Sponsorship programs allow the sponsors of women to take action to open doors for other women. In employee networking groups, women need to have opportunities to network with powerful leaders who can help them advance-  not just women or lower level leaders who have good ideas but very little influence.

There are also instances in which men are not included enough in these discussions and opportunities. I always welcome their thoughts, input, and ideas to help women advance. Programs to help advance and retain women need more action and power in order to keep them running. Having men involved can add to that necessary power to keep it running and everyone engaged.

A Lot of Effort…. For What Outcome?

Not much has changed when I first covered this back in 2014. Women still compose half the workforce, yet we still do not hold the majority of public leadership positions. So, what’s happening? When I graduated with my Master of Administration degree in 2014 most of my graduating class was men. There were not many women who expressed interest in advancement even inside the program. I wanted to go as far as I could go because I saw how underrepresented we were in our classes. While we may hold the majority of advanced degrees, government and public policy is still a male-dominated field, just like tech. We need to get more women interested in the idea of educating themselves and advancing themselves, otherwise, men start out ahead anyways.

In addition, glorying efforts by trying to showcase their hiring and retention efforts for women also is not effective. This is simply the beauty contest approach to public relations and it doesn’t answer any questions, solve any problems, or actually help women advance their careers. As always, the public will hold the government accountable for their efforts. If public sector organizations don’t hold themselves accountable, then women will continue to work elsewhere and progress will not be made with our public policies by talented, qualified females.

This is the most crucial time for women’s voices to be heard. Women inside the White House are being paid like it’s 1980 and we’re not advancing gender diversity like it’s 2017. These disparities will continue to trickle down through our public policies, including our health care, wages, jobs, and paid leave. Women also need role models. If younger women do not see women in public sector leadership, then they will not have anything to aspire to. In the meantime, we can continue to advance each other through our own individual efforts and formal services, such as mine.

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