Empower Women Leaders: Webinar Q/A

There were so many engaging questions submitted during our June 27th webinar on “Empower Women Leaders: Disrupting the Art of Empathy and Authenticity,” that we weren’t able to get to them all. To ensure everyone’s perspectives and questions were addressed, we’ve gathered our SME’s expertise in the Q&A below.

View the full webinar recording here.

Q: We are building an affinity group for women at our company. What recommendations would you have for the group to ensure we are being fair and positively productive with the group?


  1. Get leadership support (all genders): You will need the backing of senior executives and managers who can allocate resources and promote a culture of diversity and inclusion for women.
  2. Define leadership roles: The leadership of your affinity group (all genders) typically plans workplace programming, and you might consider compensating them for their work. This could be a salary bump, bonus, or a percentage of their role dedicated to the affinity group work.
  3. Align the affinity group’s goals with company objectives: The affinity group can help foster cross-company learning and engagement and can provide a safe space for female employees to discuss issues like discrimination, inequality, and career development.
  4. Offer learning and development: Giving female employees the opportunities for professional growth can make them more likely to stay with the organization.
  5. Collaborate with other affinity groups in your organization: Collaboration can help share resources, avoid duplication of effort, and connect with other affinity group members who might be a good fit for your affinity group.
  6. Measure impact: Activities like special speakers, outings, and book studies can help educate employees about the importance of your affinity group and create connections.

Q: What is the best way to communicate transparently during bad financial times without scaring high potential employees into seeking roles outside the company?

A: Authenticity and compassion are so important during difficult and financially uncertain times. Transparency and honesty are as well. It’s important not to make promises you cannot keep, such as assuring employees that they won’t be impacted.

You also might consider asking a few questions: “what is your biggest concern right now?”, “what can you control and influence about the situation?”; encouraging the employee to focus on continuing to perform their job to the best of their ability while taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, and financially is important and you could share ways you’re doing that yourself.

Q: What is the best way to support women leaders in their roles? Especially as a male in a dominant female demographic.

A: The key to supporting women leaders as a male colleague in a dominant female demographic is to listen, learn, and actively work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all. By asking your female colleagues how you can best support them and being a vocal advocate for their success, you can help create a more supportive and empowering environment for women leaders to thrive.

  1. Set a positive example: As a male colleague in a dominant female demographic, it’s important to lead by example and demonstrate respect and support for all your colleagues, regardless of gender. Show your female leaders that you value their contributions and are willing to listen and collaborate with them on important projects.
  2. Foster open communication: The best way to support women leaders is to actively engage with them and seek their input on decision-making processes. Ask for feedback, listen to their ideas, and make sure they feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions.
  3. Be an advocate: One of the most effective ways to support female leaders is to be their advocate in the workplace. Use your position of power and influence to champion their successes, amplify their voices, and advocate for their advancement within the organization.
  4. Acknowledge and address bias: Be aware of any unconscious biases you may hold towards women leaders and work towards addressing and overcoming them. Challenge stereotypes and promote diversity and inclusivity within the workplace.
  5. Create a supportive work environment: Foster a culture of respect, collaboration, and inclusivity within your team or organization. Encourage open dialogue, support diversity initiatives, and create opportunities for women leaders to thrive and succeed.

Q: What are the best networking avenues for women?

A: As HR leaders, networking is an essential part of advancing in your career and connecting with other professionals in your field. For women in HR, finding the right networking avenues can make a world of difference. Here are some of the best networking avenues for women in HR:

  1. Google “women networking groups in [my area] by [my industry]”
    • A simple Google search can help you find networking groups in your area that cater specifically to women in HR. Joining these groups can help you connect with like-minded professionals and expand your network.
    • Some examples for local chapters for women are: the Boston Club for senior women and female business owners, and Chief, which facilitates groups for women in different industries. Smruti Patel, panelist and a Keystone Partners Executive Coach, facilitates multiple Chief groups. These groups can provide valuable connections and support for women in HR.
  2. Join the “Keystone Partners HR Career Forum” group on LinkedIn
    • Keystone Partners Network is a LinkedIn group dedicated to HR networking. Joining this group can provide you with a platform to connect with other HR professionals, share insights, and stay updated on industry trends.
    • Check out our latest post where we ask members to share their recommendations for HR networks in their local areas!
    • Request to join – anyone with a role in HR will be accepted!
  3. Join “Keystone Partners’ HR Networking Group (HRNG)”
    • Keystone Partners’ HR Networking Group (HRNG) offers a welcoming space for senior HR professionals like you to connect with colleagues and gain valuable insights. Led by experienced HR leaders Kim Littlefield and Mary Cavanaugh, HRNG fosters a supportive environment for career exploration.
    • This group meets virtually, monthly, with national attendees. It is specifically for HR Directors and above.
    • If you’re interested in joining and are an HR Director or above, reach out to Kim Littlefield, Senior Partner at Keystone Partners, at klittlefield@keystonepartners.com or 978-337-3985.

Networking is crucial for career growth and advancement, especially for women in HR. By exploring these networking avenues, you can build valuable connections, gain new insights, and expand your professional reach. Take advantage of these opportunities to enhance your career and thrive in the HR field.

Q: How can we be most helpful as Board members mentoring CEOs and other senior leaders?

A: Like so many questions, the answer is “it depends” in terms of what a particular CEO and leadership team may need.  Mentoring is certainly one of the roles of the board, so providing advice and perspective, where warranted, and serving as a sounding board, in the context of providing fiduciary oversight can be helpful.  What board members need to be careful of is overstepping the line between the role of management and the role of the board and getting too far into the weeds.  “Noses in, fingers out” is the saying we use. 

Also, to the extent there is a defined coaching or developmental need that is outside of these boundaries, I recommend hiring a leadership coach who can gather data through a formalized assessment process to provide feedback and help define coaching goals and metrics towards success. I know a few good coaches at Keystone we could recommend! Reach out to our team today to learn more!

Q: How to find a career mentor in the workplace? How do I get a first opportunity as a people leader?

A: If your goal is to become a people leader, you will want to find a mentor who can help you build the critical skills needed as a frontline leader (i.e., delegation, coaching, performance management, emotional intelligence, etc.). No need to wait for a formal mentoring program to be formed if you don’t have one at your company. Just ask!

  1. First, identify a senior leader that you admire that emulates those skills and then ask for a 30-minute meeting “to discuss mentoring”. A leader who is genuinely interested in growing others will say “yes” to your request.
  2. Come prepared to discuss what you want to be mentored on/what you hope to gain from the relationship, how often you’d like to meet, and for how long (3, 6, 9 or 12 months).
  3. As the mentoring relationship and your learning progresses, your mentor may also willingly serve as your advocate within the organization, recommending you to hiring managers for roles that may open up.

Q: What are some freely available resources to improve communication styles and tailor them for different target audiences?

A: Here is one suggestion to start with: Vanessa Van Edwards, communications expert, speaker, and author of several books including “Captivate” has a website with articles, free training, and other free resources: https://www.scienceofpeople.com/. Also, Amy Cuddy, psychologist, researcher, and author has some great, free resources on her website for building confidence and presence, a key element to effective communication with a variety of audiences: https://www.amycuddy.com/.

Q: I am mentoring a colleague who presents as female but identifies as non-binary who has the opposite frustration:  they point out that they are constantly “pigeonholed” as female with all of the bias that comes with that, even though their communication style, leadership style, and other attributes are much more masculine than feminine. Do you have any advice for people who find themselves in this position? Would you categorize this as gender bias, misgendering, other?


  1. Validate Their Identity: Regularly affirm and use their chosen name and pronouns. This helps reinforce their identity and sets a standard for others to follow.
  2. Advocate for Them: Use your position to advocate for their identity in meetings and professional settings. Correct others when they misgender or mischaracterize them and emphasize their preferred communication and leadership styles.
  3. Offer Networking Opportunities: Connect them with other non-binary or gender-diverse professionals who can provide support, mentorship, and advice on navigating similar challenges.
  4. Address Bias Directly: Work together to identify specific instances of bias and develop strategies to address them. This might involve role-playing responses to biased comments or behaviors or discussing ways to assertively communicate their identity.
  5. Career Conversations: The individual should be encouraged to speak with their manager about what their career aspirations are and discuss what skills, training, and support is needed in order for this person to achieve their career goals.    

Founded in 1982 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Keystone Partners is a premier consulting firm specializing in leadership development, executive coaching, and career transitions. We help organizations build resilience and sustainable growth through strategic investments in employee development at defining career moments. Our people-centric approach focuses on fostering reciprocal relationships and enhancing employee engagement, empowering clients to thrive in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

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