At the intersection of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, this post will discuss and celebrate the representation of women leadership in Learning and Development, setting an example of how leadership can and should reflect diverse population.
March is dedicated to highlighting and reflecting on the often-overlooked contributions and milestones of women to United States history, culture, and society. Women recognized and remembered ranged from Elizabeth Blackwell to Rosa Parks, to former First Lady Michelle Obama. I dedicate this post to you, you, and you!
On Which We Stand: The Glass is Breaking
American women have long fought for equal footing throughout the nation’s history. And while some glass ceilings have been shattered, others remain. But progress continues to be made. While accepting her nomination for president of the United States, Hillary Clinton said it best, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Echoing Clinton’s sentiment, women continue to shatter the glass ceiling and are showing no signs of stopping! We are making history for women across the world. Even though women in leadership positions have made significant gains, double standards, industry bias, gender gaps in both pay and leadership representation remain. Women remain underrepresented in all levels of management.
The need for promoting women in leadership is as important as creating an enabling environment for women to hone their leadership qualities. Despite measures to empower women and see them in leadership positions, there is still an under-representation of women in such positions globally. This is especially true for Black women.
The evidence is clear: inclusive leaders and inclusive organizations outperform those that are not. Studies show that having more women in the workplace makes an organization a better place to work, for people of all genders. For example, research found that more women in leadership roles predict a healthier and happier workplace for all, with higher job satisfaction and commitment to the organization.
Leadership in Learning and Development
In the past, I’ve written numerous posts that highlighted female accomplishments and powerful unsung women. With this post, in honor of Women’s History Month, I continue highlighting the achievements of women specifically as it relates to leadership in learning and development. Why choose leadership in the discipline of learning and development? Well, because this is the field in which I work and lead.
Learning and Development (L&D) is an industry where women are considered to thrive, but that reputation is more substantiated by the abundant representation of women entering the field than the slimmer percentages in leadership roles. Actually, research by Donald H Taylor revealed that the higher you climb the corporate ladder in the US and UK, the more absent women are in L&D roles.
We are aware that the gap that exists is different depending on the industry or job role. So, how are women faring in learning and development?
A Training Journal survey showed that while women in the field of learning and development are slowly but steadily closing the gap, with 30% working as HR/L&D Directors and 35% as HR/L&D Managers, there is a noted underrepresentation of people of color. In fact, the same study noted that there seemed to be a wide-ranging lack of leadership with diverse backgrounds. Most female L&D professionals are white and come from middle-class backgrounds. This clearly has an impact on how diverse groups view the profession. On the other hand, Black female leaders in education are unique, encompassing the lived experience of being Black and being a woman while forging forward to make a difference.
I am a Black woman who has been in the training and staff development profession for over 25 years and as of 2021, was promoted to a high-level leadership position overseeing the organization’s Office of Training Operations. I am a prime example of the stride women are making in shattering the glass ceiling dominated by men. It is great to live in a time where professional women are putting their mark in the learning and development community. One that I am proud to be a part of.
I believe that women are natural collaborators and connectors. These characteristics are skills that are critical to continued learning and effective training outcomes. To a degree, learning is its own reward. Staff become more productive and engaged and learning also improves job satisfaction and retention.
I love to learn and am an advocate for education. I also love being able to help people grow, succeed, collaborate, and develop relationships. I am passionate about helping and seeing people flourish into their full potential. Learning and development gives me the platform to contribute to their growth.
Educate and Upskill towards Leadership Roles
Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
The first step towards growth lies in possessing the right knowledge about that path. Leaders in learning and development should have a background in learning, teaching, training, or curriculum development to give them a solid foundation and understanding of their role, purpose, and importance in the organization. Effective L&D leaders are learners themselves. They are passionate about creating programs that help people. They are also constantly learning about leadership, development, and training.
As an advocate for education, I sought to upskill and increase my knowledge in Adult Education and Training, so I chose to make an investment in my learning. Costly? Yes, but it definitely paid off as I am now a Doctor of Education – Educational Leadership. “It is only when women have access to quality information and ways to decipher it that women can march ahead towards leadership roles in organizations,” writes Dr. S.K Nigam in HERSTORY.
Education is one of the few industries where women are better represented in leadership roles. Education, including corporate training, is an appealing field for women A survey by Fairygodboss found that education and human resources were in the top five departments for women based on job satisfaction. Well, I can certainly attest to that. I love what I do and thank my organization for allowing me to take my place in leadership. I am satisfied!
Women Learn, Grow and Lead
The presence of female leaders in education and L&D challenge the stereotype of the characteristics of a female leader. Data shows that the industry has a long way to go in terms of diversity and gender equality. Socioeconomic constraints, lack of quality education, uneven representation in leadership, and the infamous glass ceiling that always seemed tough to break have kept women out of contention for an equal share of the workspace pie. As we women rise to leadership in the field of L&D, we are helping to shape the design and delivery of learning. We learn, grow and lead.
As I stated earlier, I have a love for education and learning as well as managing learning. Perhaps this passion will help more women break through the glass ceiling in the training industry. An article in Chief Learning Officer, points to the LinkedIn Learning’s “2021 Workplace Learning Report” to affirm that “L&D is well-positioned to have a long-term, elevated role within organizations today, from promoting internal mobility to actively creating a more inclusive and equitable workforce.”
Women rule! We are now reaching the top of the public and non-profit sectors. Women are being appointed to some of the most prestigious jobs in government. We women and women of color now wield immense power and influence. We are role models for the generation of women coming up behind. To my fellow women in leadership, I salute you!