Women's Advancement: Interpersonal Skills Aren't Enough!

3 min read | Susan Colantuono

Powerful businesswoman standing with back with business team at background

There's a not-so-little hidden secret that women aren't being told about career success. It's a rarely discussed element that holds women back... or propels them ahead. It's one element on which they are consistently rated as under-performing their male counterparts. It is one element missing from (or under-taught in) most organizations' leadership development programs - and frequently totally absent from the activities of women's networks, affinity groups or leadership forums. This one element is the vital missing piece of the success equation for women. I call it The Missing 33%®. It is business savvy with all its related skills and knowledge.

For years the traditional career success equation has been something like this:

Professional Competence + Interpersonal Skills
= Career Success.

This is one reason that many corporate leadership development programs focus so heavily on interpersonal skills. But these are the very skills at which women generally excel. Which raises the question, if women have such strong interpersonal skills, why are there so few women at the top of organizations? In part because these leadership development programs are built on that incomplete success equation. Therefore, they woefully underemphasize the most important career success driver: business savvy. In studies from around the globe, business savvy is one area where women are rated as underperforming men.

That women have less business savvy than men is a strong expectation. In company after company from F10 to mid-sized firms we've found that women are under-prepared to confront this expectation. This creates a significant career derailer - but one that can be easily overcome by filling in The Missing 33%®...

(R) Missing 33_-type treatment-Horiz

What does it take to fill in The Missing 33%®? How can corporate learning & development programs or diversity initiatives do a better job of providing what women need to succeed? They can provide programming to help women acquire, develop and demonstrate skills in 3 areas:
  1. Business acumen and the related ability to speak the Language of Power™

  2. Strategic acumen - the ability to understand, set, evaluate and execute strategy

  3. Financial acumen - the ability to read the story of business performance that's told by the numbers

By offering traditional management/leadership development topics that focus heavily on interpersonal skills, companies under-serve women's needs and inadvertently reinforce career plateaus for women. To successfully advance women, learning & development and diversity functions will strengthen the pipeline of women by offering The Missing 33%®.

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