3 ways to help your future women leaders thrive


Published on: November 2022

Written by: Tara Cherniawski

Much has been written about how to help women succeed in the workplace.

Talent leaders put time and effort into cracking the code on unlocking the paths for women to grow and develop, so that they can retain and benefit from this critical segment of the workforce. Yet despite considerable progress over the years, gender inequality continues to permeate companies worldwide. On average, less than one third of senior and middle management positions are held by women today.[1]

To uncover more about why this is the case and understand how to break the cycle, BTS supported a study on millennial women’s career progression.[2] The research specifically examined Emirati women’s career progression, but the lessons drawn from the findings provide a useful path forward for talent leaders everywhere.

The findings from the research underscore how many women still feel that gender restricts their career growth and ability to pursue their dream jobs. The concept of the “glass cliff,” where women and minority leaders are frequently appointed to positions of power during times of crisis when they are likely to fail, is an example of how gender continues to shape workplace biases, attitudes, and dynamics.[3]

In the face of a recession, the “glass cliff” is especially relevant, and the concern for women’s career advancement matters now more than ever. In past economic downturns, women have been disproportionately affected by lay-offs and narrowing opportunities due to prejudiced societal expectations about life at home and outdated workplace norms.

When organizations fail to invest in the development of women, they are leaving half of their potential talent behind. This puts organizations’ ability to grow, develop a sustainable bench of leaders, and ensure their future at risk. Improving the gender gap has the ability to not only improve outcomes for women and their careers, but also enhance business outcomes for organizations by enabling them to get more out of their talent.

The research, conducted through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a data sample of 15 professional Millennial women from a range of industries, provided several clear themes that talent leaders and their companies can prioritize to most effectively address this challenge.

To aid in the career progression of future female leaders, organizations need to invest in the following three things: 1) access to professional development, 2) availability of career support, and 3) stretch goals that encourage learning.
  1. Access to professional development.
    It’s no secret that investing in professional development is good for organizations – it’s been proven to strengthen retention, improve employee engagement, and attract top talent.[4] This is especially true for early career women.

    Entering the workforce for the first time, young women often struggle with self-image and confidence.[5] Improving access to professional development can accelerate skill-building and confidence for this critical group. All of the women in the study reported that gaining access to learning opportunities was a requirement for their career progression.

    To support emerging women leaders, Talent leaders should create opportunities for development, specifically by providing financial support and dedicated time for women to learn.

  1. Availability of career support.
    Career support can take on many forms, but all fifteen women surveyed acknowledged that ready access to both formal career mentoring and flexible working practices was essential for helping them achieve both their short- and long-term career aspirations.

    Mentorship is beneficial to all employees. According to Forbes, 25 percent of employees with a mentor were able to achieve a salary grade increase when compared to only 5 percent of employees without one. For women in particular, mentorship can “develop leadership skills, increase self-confidence, improve emotional intelligence, and navigate gender-specific obstacles.”[6] To build these critical networks within your organization, talent leaders should consider creating formal mentorship opportunities where senior leaders can volunteer to mentor young female professionals.

    In addition to formal mentorship, sponsorship and allyship are also critical elements talent leaders can cultivate to support women. Sponsors and allies may not have a formal relationship with the women they support, but act as advocates in senior meetings when the woman or women they sponsor may not be in the room, accelerating their ability to access stretch opportunities.

    Furthermore, creating programs that support flexible working practices can be critical for retaining high-potential women. Especially following the pandemic, which regressed several facets of global gender equality, a continued emphasis on supporting women to have a career outside the home is critical.[7]

    Even today, women do twice as much domestic and household work as their male partners.[8] In the pandemic, women also experienced higher rates of layoffs, voluntary attrition, and declining pay and have yet to fully recover.[9] Moving forward, rather than seeking a return to pre-pandemic office norms, organizations need to consider how to support women in “the new normal.”

    Programs such as organization-sponsored parental leave, onsite childcare, or flexible work-from-home policies are critical and can be what prevents a woman from leaving her job under pressure to be successful both at work and at home.

  1. Stretch goals that encourage learning.
    When provided with the right support, “stretch goals can… encourage enthusiasm, motivation, productivity, and innovation.”[10] The women who participated in the study described that stretch projects and goals were critical for their advancement.

    Given access to professional development, mentorship, and the flexibility to work in the way that works best for them, women also need opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities and how they add value to the team. Talent leaders can drive this by developing managers to become allies and seek out opportunities for women to shine.

    By helping managers become active career allies and advocates to the women on their teams, talent leaders will create a movement within the organization in support of women. Consistent opportunities to work on stretch goals will generate a positive feedback loop where high-performing women not only succeed and advance in the organization but stay to develop the next generation of women leaders.

Empowering women to reach their full potential has both commercial and ethical benefits. By investing in professional development, career support, and creating a culture of stretch goals to encourage learning, your organization will retain more women and accelerate their growth, improving both the bottom line and global social progress.


[1] Occupations with the smallest share of women workers. (2019) U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau.; Campuzano, M. V. (2019). Force and inertia: A systematic review of women’s leadership in male-dominated organizational cultures in the United States,” Human Resource Development Review, 18(4).

[2] Cherniawski, T. (2020). The Disrupted Generation: Exploring millennial Emirati women’s career progression in the context of changing UAE dynamics (dissertation).

[3] Oakes, K. (2022, February 6). The invisible danger of the ‘glass cliff’. BBC Future. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from

[4] Heinz, K. (n.d.). 6 reasons why employee development is key. Built In. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from

[5] Why leadership training is critical to helping women achieve their potential. (2020) Hira Ali. Forbes.

[6] Kramer, A. (2021, December 10). Women need mentors now more than ever. Forbes. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from

[7] Azcona, G., Bhatt, A., Encarnacion, J., Plazaola-Castaño, J., Seck, P., Staab, S., & Turquet, L. (2020). From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19. UN Women – Headquarters. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from

[8] Gender equity starts in the home. Harvard Business Review. (2021, February 1). Retrieved September 20, 2022, from

[9] Azcona, G., Bhatt, A., Encarnacion, J., Plazaola-Castaño, J., Seck, P., Staab, S., & Turquet, L. (2020). From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19. UN Women – Headquarters. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from

[10] Stretch goals: Definition, benefits, tips and examples. Indeed. (2022, June 8). Retrieved September 20, 2022, from

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