Women in Leadership Programs…

Women in Leadership Programs…

The latest version of unpaid work?

In most of the leadership programs I have run, unfortunately, many participants who attend often feel the pressure of having to make up for time out of the office. 

They check their emails and make calls during breaks. Some arrive early to power through on their laptops before the workshop starts. Others share that they will be working late to make up for being ‘away’. 

 Without the appropriate resourcing and support to help them attend the program (which rarely happens), active participation in a leadership program frequently involves taking on more work on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Ironically, this frequently becomes a topic of conversation during the workshop and the development that most of the leaders need.


Now, let’s think about Women in Leadership Programs (WILPs).

As far as leadership programs go, most WILPs often require quite substantial investments of participants’ time and mental energy. Some even have a high visibility project component to be squeezed in.

Participation in these programs demands additional cognitive effort, as well as the above-mentioned challenge of how to re-juggle work priorities.

In addition, many women are likely to be reluctant to decline these development ‘opportunities,’ fearing it might signal a lack of interest in career advancement. 

Compound this with the reality that whilst they are working on their leadership skills, their male peers have more time to achieve their KPIs.

In isolation, WILPs may not be doing what you think they are doing. 

Instead, they may actually be reinforcing a system by which women have to work much harder than their male peers for the same rewards and outcomes. 

(In many instances they work harder and still get less.)


To push back on the invitation to attend a WILP, creates a kind of guilt equivalent to that frequently experienced by working mothers.

The fear (real or imagined) that saying ‘No’ would mean they aren’t as talented (they should be able to juggle better) or aren’t as motivated or ambitious as they should be. 

Then, imagine the added pressure of continuing to act engaged and appreciative of the opportunity when this is the fourth or fifth program they have attended that shares similar content. 

Imagine the pressure to present a quality project to the board or Exec team. Stuff it up, and it reflects poorly on you, not the lack of support you have received or how you may have been set up to fail. 

Many women I talk to are, simply, over it.


We need to rethink how we treat the talented women in our organisations.

As a McKinsey study suggests, WILPs can be highly beneficial but only if the organisation outside of the program is also developing itself.

Bloke Coaching works as a great complement to existing Women in Leadership Programs. 

By developing the men as well, we are able to address the actual barriers that get in the way of achieving gender equality, as well as sharing the onus of responsibility.