8 ways to empower the next generation of female leaders

by Ana Lopez

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

I know what it feels like to be left out. I was born in Mexico and moved to San Diego at the age of 4, where I learned to speak English in kindergarten. I had trouble making friends because I couldn’t understand my classmates, and many kids wouldn’t speak to me because I “speaked differently.” Fortunately, I quickly picked up English, but then faced another uncertainty. When I was eight years old, I convinced myself to play on a boys’ baseball team with my twin brother because “girls” or “co-ed” baseball was offered where we lived. From the very first training I was literally mocked throw like a girl.

Fortunately, times have changed for young girls and we have more female and diverse leadership than ever before. Yet it is not enough. There are too many outdated ways of thinking and policies that need to be cast aside.

For 2023, the theme of International Women’s Day, #EmbraceEquity, aims to get more people globally talking about why”equal opportunities are no longer enough – aand may in fact be exclusion, rather than inclusive.”

The campaign aims to educate the differences between Equity And Equivalence. It says that “Equivalence means that every individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates precisely the resources and opportunities necessary to achieve an equal outcome.” has also affected lower-income and under-represented individuals.

As we continue to instill courage and inspire a more inclusive view of female leadership, here are eight strategies for how organizations can empower the next generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs.

1. Make women aware of their superpower

We all have one. My superpower is the ability to get people on the phone, schedule the meeting, and get them to return the email. I am not intimidated by the outreach and genuinely enjoy meeting people to build relationships and friendships. Encourage women to use their superpower, be it a keen knowledge of technology or a track record of success scaling business plans, support them to pursue their dreams and goals, face challenges and break down barriers. Usually within these achievements we can drive company success, system change and personal growth.

2. Create a culture of belonging

For a company to be productive and inspiring for its employees, everyone must have a sense of belonging. If a woman or anyone feels left out, insecure, or unsafe, her self-esteem and talent will decline. To create this culture, organizations can meet a baseline of fair pay, provide meaningful work, and support women with a work-life balance between office work, hybrid work, and remote work. Women feel at home when their opinions are valued and when their managers lead with empathy. For the fourth year in a row, Hilton topped Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Women list. The company outlines how they create a culture of belonging in the Diversity and Inclusion Statement and Report here.

Related: 14 strategies for retaining top talent and building championship teams

3. Build more diverse boards

I update CEO and board investigations with my team Boyden and focus on taking action to address it the lack of diversity on boards of directors. According to Himforher.org Benchmark Study 2021 of Gender Diversity On private company boards produced with Crunchbase, nearly 40% of high-growth private companies do not have women on their boards, and 78% do not have women of color.

Overall, only 14% of all board seats in private companies are held by women, and only 3% by women of color. In fact, that same study found that within the companies surveyed, there were as many board members named “Dave” as women of color. And yet research shows that various boards perform better than their colleagues.

Jocelyn Mangan, CEO and founder of Himforher.org, explains that there is no pipeline problem. Mangan explains that “there are enough women with the skills needed to serve as directors to fill every empty seat.” She encourages CEOs to build more diverse boards by identifying resources beyond the personal networks of those in the boardroom today and building a broad pipeline of candidates. Leaders should also focus on finding the right expertise: by looking at who is already on the board and identifying the missing skills – functional, industry, scale and growth, ESG, customer segment or business model – a broader and more strategic pool of qualified candidates.

Related: The secret to making boards more successful is to make them more accessible

4. Introduce inclusion in the onboarding process

While onboarding at my company, I had to complete multiple training seminars on diversity, equity, and inclusion, complete with quizzes at the end. It was an important refresher course for me, and I also learned new details about the ever-evolving inclusive language. Education about language, pronouns and respectful word choice will encourage a stronger company culture. Leaders can start The Inclusive Language Handbook or recruit a certified DEI leader to train employees.

5. Fit the job to the candidate instead of the candidate to the job

For women especially, tailor the job to meet her needs rather than asking her to mold into a role that may have outdated policies that lack flexibility, skills, and interpersonal and soft skills. I recently read CNBC’s Senior Media and Tech Correspondent Julia Boorstin’s new book, When women lead, where she tackles obstacles women face and shares valuable tips to build more successful female leaders. Using data and research, Boorstin explains how women’s traditionally underappreciated traits, such as vulnerability and gratitude, can be “vital superpowers.”

6. Generate public relations and attention to women

Women’s champion for speaking engagements, podcasts, panel speaking, and media pieces. When I launched my marketing and PR agency focused on sports, health and wellness 14 years ago, my first few hires were female athletes, including an Olympian. When I saw opportunities for my team to appear on a podcast or speak on a panel, I pitched them and encouraged my colleagues to share their stories to inspire and educate others. After the first media piece I helped her secure, my Olympian colleague has spoken on multiple podcasts and panels about her challenges with mental health in athletics and continues to share her story to inspire and support other female athletes.

7. Offer mentorship and leadership development programs inside and outside the organization

Identify the strengths, room for growth and passions in women and offer learning to help them achieve their stretch and ambitious goals. Empowering women to put their day jobs on hold to enable their development and encourage cross-functional mentorship, enabling them to build more relationships and feel more secure and included in their work environment.

Related: 5 Secrets to Finding and Working With a Mentor

8. Understand the business imperative for how diversity can drive productivity and success

PagerDuty, a digital operations solutions company, is an excellent example of a company trying to fill their gaps in technology and equal pay. After review PagerDuty’s 2022 Inclusion, Diversity and Equity ReportI spoke to their Chief Diversity Officer, Roshand Kindred, who believed that representation in technology for women, especially Black and Latina women, was limited.

Of a handful of inclusion programs rolling out at PagerDuty in 2022, Kindred focused on hiring more women for tech roles and building a gender equality plan. Productivity increased in just nine months. Even more impressive is that their pay and gender equality is spot on today – dollar for dollar for men and women.

Empowering our next generation of female leaders goes beyond policies and hiring practices. The most important thing companies can do to promote more women leaders is to think, act and lead with a conscious commitment to include everyone and promote a culture where women and people of all genders and backgrounds can emerge as their authentic self. Leaders must make it a business priority to include more women in leadership and board positions. The only way we can inspire and achieve this is not by making less noise and taking action.

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