Women in Leadership: 5 Questions With Julie Reed

Women at Work: Creating a Culture of Female Leadership

Hartford leader Tracey Ant shares tactical ways to create connected, high-performing teams.
Tracey Ant Photo
Tracey Ant, Head of Middle & Large Commercial, The Hartford
More than ever, women are becoming increasingly visible in the ranks of senior leadership. The number of women in the C-suite is the highest it has ever been, increasing from 17 to 28 percent since 2015. The number of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels has also improved significantly.1
Across sectors, there are pockets of optimistic findings balanced with remaining challenges, including:
  • Higher education is leading the charge in promoting career growth for women. From 2002 to 2022, the representation of women among administrators (including presidents, provosts, and CHROs) increased. As of 2022, slightly more than half (51%) of administrators were women.2
  • While the health care workforce is 70% female, most women do not hold leadership roles. Only 25% of women in the field hold a senior role.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent only 29% of the manufacturing workforce. One in four manufacturing leaders are women.3 However, more women have been entering the construction industry, and in 2022, women made up 10.9 percent of the construction industry workforce – an increase from 9.9 percent in 2018.4,5
Although each sector faces unique roadblocks, they share a similar set of solutions: Mentorship, team-building and actionable DEI programs.

How To Support Women Leaders in Your Workforce

Culture is key to recruiting and retaining female employees – and propelling them to become future leaders.
“I think people often march forward without really understanding why," Ant says. "It’s important to invest in your own career. Understand what the company stands for and ask questions to understand what its values are and what the mission statement is for employees.”
To foster a supportive culture, leaders should consider:

Establishing Mentorship or Sponsorship Programs

Mentorship and sponsorship programs are invaluable for developing future women leaders, especially when current leadership works with employees from outside the C-suite. Organizations can support female leaders by offering dedicated programs to pair junior and senior employees together, thereby creating visibility and equitable advancement opportunities. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies now offer mentoring programs.6
Ant says she benefited from mentors throughout her early career days. “Most were informal mentors, but they made themselves available to coach and provide feedback,” she says. The feedback wasn’t always easy, but it was vital for her advancement.
“Some of those messages were a little tough, but I think they were some of the best messages. You need mentors who aren’t afraid to give constructive feedback in a way that can help you get better and provide a learning opportunity. It’s something today we work hard at here [The Hartford].

Stay Current on Workplace Research

Being aware of long-standing assumptions and bias can help in your day-to-day operations and team communication. For example, outdated information says women are hesitant to ask for promotions, and they are more likely to step away from work after being married. Neither is true.
Women holding entry and manager levels ask for promotions as often as men do, and they are no more likely to leave their company. As for women and wages, research shows that contrary to the notion that women don't ask for higher wages, professional women do negotiate their salaries more often than men. Unfortunately, though, they get turned down more often than men.7

Prioritize Psychological Safety With Your Team

Women experience microaggressions at a much higher rate than men in the workplace. Microaggressions are “thinly veiled, everyday instances of racism, homophobia, or sexism.”8 People who experience microaggressions are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs and four times more likely to experience burn out, research shows.9 More than any other group of women, LGBTQ+ women feel the need to hide important parts of their identities to fit in at work and avoid microaggressions.10
Building psychological safety begins with educating your team on inclusivity, and upholding a team culture that doesn’t allow for open hostility or personal slights.
“Having a workplace where you can feel safe to talk and be open about things that are important in your life is essential. At The Hartford, it’s what we stand for in many ways. We work hard at making sure that anybody who is with us, or considering coming to work for us, knows that we are a strong ethical ” Ant says.

Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs focus on creating equitable advancement opportunities for all, including women. An organization can foster diversity and inclusion by nurturing talent from groups that are considered underrepresented.11,12
At The Hartford, for example, building a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive culture is a top priority. Research consistently shows that companies equipped with a range of voices and perspectives are better able to innovate, take risk, turn challenges into opportunities and achieve better business outcomes. While DEI typically focuses on identifiers such as race, ethnicity, ability, sex and gender, Ant also mentions how valuable diversity of talent has mattered on her teams. “It hasn’t just been insurance majors or finance majors [being recruited],” Ant says. “I think all too often we get stuck [doing the same things]. Diversity of talent matters a lot.”

Offer Company Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can play a role in helping women succeed. The Hartford’s Professional Women's Network (PWN) is an example of an inclusive community that enables women within the organization to connect with others and gain valuable insights and face time with senior leaders. ERGs have been shown to foster inclusive culture within an organization.13
As organizations create systematic changes via programs mentioned above, Ant encourages individuals to equally invest in their own trajectory.
“Don’t only focus on the present but stay curious. Ask questions. Know your trade while keeping an eye on emerging business,” she says. “If you’re not understanding what your competitors do; if you don’t understand your productivity metrics or your KPIs, you may be left behind,” she says.
1,8,9,10Women in the Workplace 2023: Designed Report,” McKinsey & Company, accessed January 2024
2 “Higher Ed Administrators: Trends in Diversity and Pay Equity From 2002 to 2022,” Collage and University Professional Association for Human Resources, November 2023
3 “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook,” BLS Reports, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2023
4,5 “Statistics Of Women In Construction,” The National Association of Women in Construction, accessed January 2024
6 “2023 Mentoring Impact Report: Mentoring Helped Businesses Survive The Great Resignation,” Sam Cook, MentorCliq, May 17, 2023
7 “New Research Shatters Outdated Pay-Gap Myth That Women Don't Negotiate,” Laura Counts, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, August 22, 2023
11 “Women of Color in the Workplace: Driving Professional Progress and DEI,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, March 4, 2022
12 “DEI: What It Is and How to Foster it in The Workplace,” Michael Boyles, Business Insights Blog, Harvard Business School Online, October 3, 2023
14 “Effective Employee Resource Groups are Key to Inclusion at Work. Here's How to Get Them Right,” McKinsey & Company, December 2022
This article provides general information, and should not be construed as specific legal, HR, financial, insurance, tax or accounting advice. As with all matters of a legal or human resources nature, you should consult with your own legal counsel and human resources professionals. The Hartford shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, punitive or exemplary damages in connection with the use by you or anyone of the information provided herein.
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