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Is there a leadership ambition gap among women? Research shows that, in fact, no such gap exists, and that women’s ambitions change at different stages in their lives. Nonetheless, when it comes to succession-planning and talent-development, too often, erroneous assumptions are made about women’s ambitions and their willingness to take challenging assignments.

These assumptions give rise to remarks like “She has young children, no way she’d want to do this,” “This role requires a lot of hours and travel, and I don’t think she’d want to do that,” and “She seems happy in her current position.”

The truth is that the most important thing to know regarding a woman’s ambition is that you cannot make any assumptions. The only way to know is to ask her about her current career aspirations (just as you should ask your male employees), and ask her frequently.

At the same time, it is important to note that another factor at play in a woman’s lack of advancement may be self-confidence – or lack thereof. While I hate to acknowledge it, and work very hard to change it, there are some women who are less certain about their ability to take on a challenging assignment or promotion.

Here are eight ways to encourage women and amplify their contributions:

●  Regularly communicate female colleague’s contributions, leadership and results to your colleagues, clients and senior leaders.

●  When you are at a networking event or a meeting with clients or senior executives, introduce your female colleague by her recent accomplishments, expertise, title, or ambitions. For instance, say: “I’d like you to meet Sandra, she’s our resident expert on X and she recently solved one of our client’s biggest problems.”

●  Make high-performing women more visible inside your organization and externally in the marketplace by making them the lead person for an important initiative, sharing their accomplishments, and publicly recognizing their performance. Seeing female role models is encouraging and motivating to other women, especially young women, and a factor they consider when deciding where to work.

● Share articles or insights from your female colleagues online and through social media. Include praise or support for their ideas.

●  Encourage women you know and work with to accept credit for their accomplishments. For example, when you compliment a woman for her results, don’t accept her saying, “It was nothing.”

●  Urge women to communicate their aspirations and achievements. This is one of the most valuable actions women can take to advance themselves.

●  Provide impactful professional development opportunities. Don’t rely solely on training to develop women. The most effective way you can support a woman with leadership potential is to give her challenging assignments; take her out of staff positions and put her into an operating line, a revenue, or a profit-and- loss position; and involve her in strategic business decision-making.

●  Encourage women’s advancement. Tell women when you consider them ready for challenging opportunities or assignments. Say something like: “You are ready for this, go ahead and apply.” Be persistent; you may have to urge her a few times.

Women (like men) sometimes need a little encouragement. They need to feel that their managers believe in them and have their best interests at heart. Sometimes they need to be told more than once that they are capable. They value your advice and support.

Rania H. Anderson is the author of WE: Men, Women, and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work. She strengthens and transforms the way men and women work together to improve their collective success. Sought after for her unique insights and expertise, she speaks at corporations, coaches business leaders and is an angel investor. To learn more, visit: www.TheWayWoMenWork.com.

By Rania Anderson