Assume Not, but Do Ask Away: Starter Steps for Effectively Managing Your Female Talent

By Hattie Bollerman
You Want to be a Good Manager of Women? Start with being a good manager of human beings.

Quite often the coaches at Hatwell are engaged by our clients to assist in the advancement of female talent.

We do this through executive coaching, small group training or by facilitating diversity conversations and planning sessions with managers.

From time to time, the question is raised: how should we manage our female population differently than our male population?

I understand the sentiment behind this question, but it is not the best question.

The better question, which will lead to more success for all, is this: how do we hold space for the variety of people, with all kinds of talents, and perspectives, to thrive in our organization?

You solve for this, and you will help to foster an environment of inclusion, creativity, and loyalty.

Furthermore, you will be helping to push back against the trend of extremely talented, hard-working individuals, many of them women, opting out of finance far too early in their careers.

In the accelerated, bottom-line driven world of finance, it feels inefficient to have to acknowledge the differences in motivation, perspective and skill set that people bring to the table.

In the spirit of expediency, a one-size fits all approach to management is the default mode.

And if the default is to manage the way that you were managed (and the yous we are talking about are either men or women who were managed by men) we find ourselves missing a huge opportunity to fully engage and lead female talent toward career longevity and long-term success.

We would much rather demand uniformity (to our way of thinking and doing of course) as we believe that would keep conflict and confusion to a minimum.

Certainly, it would keep us safely nestled in our comfort zone. Sadly, it would also leave inspiration and motivation out of the picture.

In the spirit of encouraging a more diverse and balanced workplace and in honor of International Women’s Day, let us consider what a more evolved and engaged management of a team of mixed gender people looks like within finance.

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Effective Management of Females (and Everyone) Demands Shedding the Safety of our Assumptions

When it comes to assumptions around female talent, these are some that can impede the effective management of an individual’s career:

They don’t want to travel because they have family at home. So, I can’t ask them to manage this client/deal/account.
They don’t need as much money because their partner is successful.
They are probably going to leave after 3-5 years, so we don’t need to manage their platform with an eye on promotion.
They probably don’t golf, ski, etc. so they wouldn’t want to be included in this client outing.
If I say hard things, give them difficult feedback, it will crush them, and they might even cry. It’s better if I just wait until the year-end review to soften the blow.
They are so much better with people; they probably would love to manage the juniors.
They are better at planning social gatherings; they will love to help with the party.
They wouldn’t want this promotion because it will demand way more of their time and energy.
They couldn’t push back on that client, so we need to put a tough male on the account.
They must not care about promotion, because they are never in my office advocating for themselves.
They must be happy because they never complain.
They don’t care about money; they never negotiate or even mention their compensation.
They are in this profession for intellectual and personal fulfillment.

Whether you think this list exaggerated or just skimming the surface of assumptions women face in finance, know that we all make assumptions. Instead of acting on your assumption, in the spirit of being a good manager, find out the truth about your female colleague. How? Ask her.

Effective Management of Females (and Everyone) Requires Conversation and Connection

Consider this a starter list of open questions that will quell assumptions and lead you to a more informed management approach.

  • Where do you see yourself in a year, three years etc.?
  • How can I help you get there?
  • May I give you some feedback?
  • What really motivates you?
  • Where do you see your best and highest skills?
  • Do you find opportunities to put your skills to work in your current role?
  • Who do you want to get to know in the organization?
  • How are you growing your network, internally and externally?
  • Do you have the time and the desire to be a part of these development programs?
  • Are there other areas in the firm that you are interested in pursuing?
  • What is a stretch goal for you?
  • How do you best learn?
  • What brought you into this type of work?
  • What are my blind spots as a manager?
  • How can I help you?

To be a great manager, of all people, you must pay attention. You watch dynamics, you pick up on non-verbals, you listen to what is not being said, as well as what is being said.

It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to really see someone and help them in their careers.

The very act of listening to another human being creates connection and trust. To manage your female population effectively, try to see them as they are, not as you are.

If this is challenging, enlist the help of a female colleague or a colleague who has a reputation of managing all kinds of people well.

Recognize that you have things to learn and articulate that you need to get better—for the sake of the individual, the larger team and yes—the acceleration of progress for women.

To be a great manager, of all people, you must pay attention. You watch dynamics, you pick up on non-verbals, you listen to what is not being said, as well as what is being said.

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