2016 in review

Lessons learned on women in the workplace

This column marks my final contribution to BizTimes Milwaukee for 2016. Readers who have followed my columns this year will have noticed I wrote solely about issues confronted by women in the workplace and the importance of implementing talent acquisition and development (emphasizing mentoring) programs for women.
In my last column, I also raised some troubling statistics associated with educational and employment trends for men, especially young men.
In this culminating column for 2016, I will offer some summary themes, based on my columns, as we look ahead to 2017.
Looking back at this year’s columns, several themes emerge:

Feminist, masculinist, humanist . . . ?

The response to my 2016 columns was interesting. Much of the feedback directed my way questioned why a late-career Caucasian male was spending his time stumping on behalf of women. People who asked that question, unfortunately, missed the point. I was not advocating solely for women; I was advocating for developing all employees, making the evidence-based argument based on labor statistics that focusing on women is a particularly wise idea, given that women are going to be the majority entrants to the workforce over the next few years.

2017 resolution: Fine-tune and augment your organization’s talent acquisition, management and development practices, with an emphasis on women!     

Changing workforce demographics

Related to the first theme, my 2016 focus on women was not simply to advance a personal agenda. The fact of the matter is that Wisconsin employers face a “brutal reality” regarding the changing composition of our workforce. This is not a new observation; we have known about this for a long time. Wisconsin has an aging workforce (i.e., a very high percentage of soon-to-exit baby boomers), we are a “brain drain” state (i.e., young people, especially young women, take their degrees and get jobs elsewhere) and we lag behind the national average in terms of educational attainment (i.e., the percentage of our workforce holding a bachelor’s degree is lower than the percentage in the workforce of the U.S.).

2017 resolution: Embrace new entrants to the workforce by actively and positively assimilating the millennials, especially women!  

A leadership challenge

In light of the first two themes, leadership development and succession planning emerge as increasingly important priorities. Organizations must define and coordinate processes for identifying and developing individuals with leadership potential. Moving forward, succession planning (i.e., proactively deciding about successors, transitions, etc.) becomes more critical. Organizations must develop focused practices related to talent assessment, talent development and ongoing evaluation of results, all with an organization-specific focus (i.e., the focus should be on “this company,” “this culture,” and so on).

2017 resolution: Develop an organization-specific leadership development and succession planning model, emphasizing women!

Talent management: A strategic organizational concern

The first three themes suggest talent management is a strategic organizational concern, not simply some activity for the human resources department to undertake to keep busy. Hiring, retaining, managing and developing employees to the fullest creates a competitive advantage. It involves coordinated collaboration among leaders throughout the organization. Top leaders must serve as effective sponsors of such initiatives (i.e., link them with organizational goals and provide resources). Human resources leaders must operate as effective program architects and implementers (i.e., design solid programs). Functional leaders must operate as catalyzing “career coaches” (i.e., fill the key roles of assessor, information resource, referral agent, mentor and evaluator). Finally, employees must act as “owners” of their development (i.e., adopt a proactive approach).
2017 resolution: Equip employees at all levels with the necessary knowledge, resources and mechanisms to operate as dynamic developmental partners!

Linking learning with the workplace

Ultimately, my 2016 columns and the feedback I have received about them lead me to conclude that now, more than ever, stronger links must be made between the educational and employment sectors. A recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that America’s employers want more than a college major when they hire an employee. They want broad skills (i.e., competencies), a mix of theory-based and applied learning and students who have had some “real time” experience (i.e., internships and applied learning projects). Increasingly, America’s colleges and universities are examining their assessment practices, broadening them within the paradigm of competency-based education. A competency-based approach is the key; it is the vital link to viewing 21st century learners as “whole people” who are (or will very soon be) 21st century workers.

2017 resolution: Take a page from Jamie Merisotis’ book, “America Needs Talent,” and investigate the formulation of learning partnerships with area colleges and universities.

This certainly was an interesting year for me. I learned a lot along the way, particularly regarding some of the very real challenges that still exist for women in organizational settings and the need for organizations to offer more robust and dynamic developmental programming along those lines. I hope that in some small way, I was able to shed some light on this very important and significant matter, even if only to generate a discussion about the state of the situation and what actions might be taken moving forward.

Best wishes for much success in 2017!

-Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D. is president and chief executive officer of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (www.od-consultants.com). He can be reached at (888) 827-1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com.

Dr. Daniel A. Schroeder is President/CEO of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). ODC serves regional and national clients from its offices in suburban Milwaukee. Additionally, he teaches in the Organizational Behavior and Leadership (bachelor’s) and Organization Development (master’s) programs at Edgewood College (Madison, WI), programs that he founded and for which he served as Program Director.

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