Future of learning blog

Empowering Women in Learning and Development

Empowering Women in Learning and Development

Stellar Labs talks to VP North America at Learning Pool, Sharon Claffey Kaliouby, award-winning expert in the business of Learning and Development (L&D). and a passionate advocate of #WomeninLearning. In the interview, Sharon shares her thoughts on how to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the Learning and Development field, what men are doing to support women, the importance of sports and nurturing collaboration as well as the benefits of having more women leaders.

How to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the Learning and Development field

When Sharon got involved in Women in Learning in 2013 in the U.S., the sense was that there were a lot of women in the L&D field. However, when L&D expert Don Taylor did an analysis to break down the numbers during a Learning Technologies Summer Forum in London in 2015, those assumptions were challenged. In the study Don found, of 1,362 people in L&D,  44% were female while 56% were male. He also found there were twice as many women as men in support roles but twice as many men as women in leadership roles. In light of these numbers, Sharon emphasizes, “the importance of us talking about this topic, increasing awareness…doing workshops… creating strategies for empowerment and we’re really trying to move the needle.” Sharon believes  partnering up with other women is key: “The #WomenInLearning group was co-founded with Kate Graham and we have at least eight to twelve women  are saying, “Champion this, this is no one woman’s initiative, but it is women that have to take it and make the change happen.”

What men can do to support women’s empowerment

Men such as Don Taylor who performed that eye-opening analysis and Andrew Jacobs, who will only speak on public platforms, including an interview on Stellar Labs podcasts, when there are an equal number of male and female interviewees, make a difference. In a Learning Technologies event in 2019, world-renowned learning leader Nigel Paine invited Dr. Celine Mullins onto the main stage. Sharon comments, “The numbers were lopsided, but it was really cool to see that it took someone influential like Nigel to get a woman up on the main stage.” The next step, according to Stellar Labs’ Chief Learning Officer Stella Collins is, “to have influential women up there influencing, getting people on the main stage.”

The importance of sports and nurturing a culture of collaboration

According to Sharon, the U.S. education system sees collaboration as “cheating”. Sharon notes that “when I worked with young grads coming out of university we had to kind of retrain their mindset, that it’s okay to lean in, to ask for help, to collaborate.” Sharon also notes an interesting common denominator among women in senior-level positions: sports. She cites a 2017 Forbes magazine article that states 52% of c-level female executives play sports. Sharon explains that “there’s something about that that gives you maybe a grit and resilience that if you don’t have it, it just makes it a bit more difficult.” Beyond the grit and resilience, Sharon talks about the idea of camaraderie in the sports world, even among competitors: “even as an individual sport athlete, the team part of it always thrilled me going to the club, going to meet and create relationships with people you want to tear apart on the fencing strip or on the field. I think another tactic that you gain from sports is keeping it on the field. And that is if there’s any confrontation, you let it sit there, you deal with it, you see who wins and then you respect your opponent when you leave.” Stella adds, “…I have a very strong belief that physical strength and mental strength go together.”

Women leaders are good for business

Sharon makes an important point about the benefits of inclusion and empowerment of women in the L&D field: “…this is not just to be nice. This is very profitable. There’re strategies in investment management that support this and illustrate that companies that are led or where you have women on boards or they have equal numbers do financially better than companies that do not.”

A report by the Bureau for Employers’ Activities revealed some impressive statistics. For example, the report cites increased gender diversity in management led to increased profits of between 5-20 percent. Bottom line: women in leadership is good for business

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