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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

3 Strategies For Women To Advance Into Leadership, Based On Research

Woman in suit with folder looking off into distance.
The Women At Work Collection is democratizing leadership training for women by offering a curriculum that is free and available to women of all levels.GETTY

Women are more ambitious now than before the pandemic, according to the Women in the Workplace Report 2023 from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. Despite this, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions. The report finds that a major barrier to more women advancing into leadership is what’s known as the “broken rung,” where women, and particularly women of color, are less likely to be promoted to that first rung of manager level. This means there aren’t enough women in the pipeline to leadership so women will never be able to catch up.

In an effort to help reverse this trend, has launched The Women At Work Collection, which is democratizing leadership training for women by offering a curriculum that is free and available to women of all levels, positions, and backgrounds. The training consists of videos, discussion guides, and curated playlists based on decades of research from Lean In’s global community that aims to help women advance and be better equipped to navigate workplaces that are still rooted in bias.

“We need companies to do better, and we need the culture to change to address the biases that women are up against, particularly women with traditionally marginalized identities,” says Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of “While we need to change the system, we also want to give women the tools they need to navigate a workplace that is still too often stacked against them in order to unlock their incredible leadership potential.”

The Women at Work Collection features customized content for Black women, Asian women, Latinas, LGBTQ+ groups, women with disabilities, and working mothers. I spoke to Anna Dapelo-Garcia, a DEI professional in the healthcare industry based in Mountain View, California and the founder and president of Lean In Latinas, who reflected back on her career of thirty years. She says early on she didn't have the fundamentals around negotiation or how to navigate being the only Latina in the room.

“I didn't have access to a program like this back then, but being in this community now and having access to data about issues such as the Latina wage gap, along with strategies on how to negotiate, has really been the confidence booster I needed,” says Dapelo-Garcia. “The fact that the curriculum is free is a gamechanger, and it’s all research backed. I would put these materials in front of women of all levels, from an emerging professional to a CEO. We’ve even had prior mayors in our circle. There are so many amazing women in this community who are not only saying, ‘Oh, this looks great from the research,’ but who are also sharing their actual lived experiences and supporting each other.”

While the Women at Work Collection was built based on decades of academic research as well as annual surveys from the 85,000 Lean In circles that formed in 183 countries, what really sets the curriculum apart is how it connects groups of women together to provide support, networking, and accountability. “Something really powerful about the curriculum—particularly when it's used in Lean In circles or when it's used with any group of women who are gathering together—it's not just that you're learning from the videos or discussion guides,” says Emma Macan Roberts, senior director of Lean In Programs. “You're also learning from each other by sharing strategies that have worked for you, and then getting that validation so you feel less alone; it’s a shared experience.”

Here are a few strategies Thomas shared from some of the Women At Work Collection’s training topics.

How To Find Sponsors For Your Career

Employees who have formal sponsors at work are more likely to be promoted than those who don’t. While a mentor is someone who can offer advice and be a sounding board, a sponsor will help open doors for you by leveraging their contacts and recommending you for opportunities when you’re not in the room.

“We know that it tends to be harder for women to get sponsors, particularly senior-level sponsors, because men are still disproportionately senior leaders,” says Thomas. “All of us tend to gravitate towards mentoring and sponsoring people that we feel a connection with, so often women inadvertently get left out of the equation.”

To find a sponsor, Thomas recommends reflecting on your existing relationships and whether or not you already have a mentor or other colleague who you could nudge into the sponsor category. Then be specific in asking for what you want or need.

“I think a lot of times people are reluctant to be overly bold in their ask, because they're worried it will seem a little brash,” says Thomas. “The reality is that senior-level people want specificity about what will actually be helpful, such as making a phone call or sending an email to a colleague on your behalf that would really open a door for you. And don’t forget to circle back to let your sponsor know how it worked out and express appreciation. Doing so helps create a loop where they can get excited about the next time they can sponsor you and what that might look like.”

Ways To Get Recognition At Work

“We know that women tend to get more blame for failures—and a little bit less credit for success—compared to men in the workplace,” says Thomas. “This means, like it or not, we may need to work a little bit harder to get our accomplishments noticed.”

Thomas recommends keeping a running list of your accomplishments for two reasons: One, to remind yourself of your wins whenever you’re having a tough moment, and two, to more easily remind your manager of your contributions when it comes time for your annual review or for a promotion.

“A well-timed email to a manager in advance of a review cycle with a quick, ‘Hi, I know you're really busy and it's hard to keep all of this top of mind, so I wanted to remind you what some of my accomplishments were this year,’ can go a long way towards getting noticed,” says Thomas.

Negotiate For What You Want—And Get It

Some studies find that women ask for raises as often as men, but are less likely to get them. Part of the reason goes back to gender bias, where men may be more likely rewarded for being assertive whereas women are more likely to be viewed as communal.

To avoid being penalized for walking outside traditional gender norms, you might try sharing how getting what you’re asking for would benefit the company, such as getting a raise and promotion would allow you to X to help grow the organization, which comes across as collaborative.

“Women tend to face pushback when we ask for more,” says Thomas. “We need to navigate gender bias in that process, such as by moving from ‘I’ to ‘we’ language. If you negotiate the same way a man does, you may not get the results you want. Do I think that's unfair? Absolutely. And do I think that's rooted in bias? You betcha. But in the meantime, I want every woman in every instance to get what she wants when she negotiates. That's where that very important gender lens training comes in, because it's not just negotiating; it's negotiating as a woman and getting what you want.”

*Article originally published in Forbes


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