Lead by Example: How Training Empowers Managers to Build Stronger Workforces

Being a great leader goes beyond directing a team through workloads and projects.

Companies continue to face talent shortages: across all industries, parents and caregivers remain an underutilized opportunity to fortify the workforce. In Werklabs’ (the research division of The Mom Project) and Staffing Industry Analysts’ (SIA) recent report: Unlocking the Potential of Parents in the Contingent Workforce, we determined there is a gap between parents’ expectations and companies’ offerings when it comes to contingent work. In this series, The Mom Project and Talent Solutions TAPFIN explore four critical practices that business leaders can prioritize to close this gap between what parents and caregivers want and what companies want to offer.

Being a great leader goes beyond directing a team through workloads and projects. Leadership is a skill that is made better through experience and continuous learning — and great leaders know that leading with vulnerability, empathy and understanding can be one of the most powerful ways to inspire others.

In previous posts of this blog series, we’ve discussed how empathy and flexibility can increase contingent workers’ satisfaction and create a culture of inclusion. Today, I’m discussing how a third critical pillar, training, goes hand-in-hand with supporting workers and fostering diversity at work.

Training is more than just formal education. In the report, Werklabs and SIA identified the top two things leaders can do to build successful contingent workforce programs through training: first, by equipping managers with the tools they need to hire well and be effective leaders, and second, by training managers to demonstrate empathy and inclusion.

Before we dive into the tactical steps your company can take to unlock the potential of parents in the contingent workforce, let’s examine why training is critical for DE&I initiatives and workers’ satisfaction.

Why training in the workplace matters

Great workplace environments that meet the needs of both full-time employees and contingent workers don’t just happen. Rather, they are built by having management teams that seek to understand what workers want and need and take the time to actively create workplace cultures that support these initiatives.

In my role as SVP of Enterprise Sales at The Mom Project, I’m deeply cognizant of the impact my leadership has on my team, both through training and with my actions. At the heart of it, it boils down to seeing the person behind the role. As a leader, I strive to create a team where individuals get to do more of what brings them energy and joy. If I can help remove roadblocks and alleviate the strain of tasks that are less suited for their expertise, then I am using my power as a leader for good —  demonstrating what empathetic leadership looks like.

Empathetic leadership is critical in fostering diversity, and begins before workers even begin the job, with the hiring process. While both parents have caregiving responsibilities, consider that mothers are often the ones who decide (or must) pause their careers to raise children. This scenario inevitably leads to a gap on their resumes and could interfere in career progression.

We all have unconscious biases due to the way our brains process the world. The trick is understanding your own biases and actively pushing back against them. Not doing so can negatively impact your workplace, with one study showing that 80 percent of people who experienced implicit bias in the workplace would not recommend the company to others.

Managers who aren’t trained to look at the human behind the applicant may tend to overlook such candidates, not taking into account the unique skills these applicants can bring to the table. This is especially true when it comes to contingent workers, who may also be parents seeking project based work or trying to get their foot in the door in a new industry after time away.

Returnship programs are one way to help returning caregivers settle back into the workforce. The Mom Project is proud to work with companies that provide valuable opportunities in the form of programs like Returnships. One of those partners is Intuit and their Intuit Again program. With this, those working in technology can find a pathway back to the workforce, complete with a dedicated support system that helps facilitate a successful return. The Intuit program even includes perks such as onboarding boot camps and one-to-one mentoring.

Hiring well is important, and it is essential in building diverse teams with varying perspectives. The real work, though, is ensuring a strong workplace culture in which workers feel respected and valued. This culture is driven by leadership, and the more that managers can educate and empower those under them, the stronger the culture of inclusion will be.

Yet it’s hard to juggle all the things, and balls can and will be dropped. Some managers may not even be aware that their actions aren’t fostering inclusion for different types of workers. One contingent workforce program manager noted that managing contingent workers is not a skill that comes naturally — and workplaces don’t necessarily push managers to become better at it.

“There’s not a lot of incentive for managers to be good at contingent workforce management,” the manager said.

In truth, most managers are doing the best they can with the resources they have. It’s the organization’s job to make DE&I a priority and equip managers with the training they need to be successful.

Fostering training in the workplace — a guide

Now that we’ve outlined the importance of training and discussed the broad spectrum of what that means in the workplace, it’s time to talk about tangible things companies can do to provide it.

To recap, the two main things companies can do to provide adequate training and guidance to managers are:

  1. Give managers the tools they need to hire well.
  2. Train managers to demonstrate empathy and inclusion.

Giving managers the tools they need to hire well means equipping them with the training and resources they need to make informed hiring decisions. Contingent workers will, by definition, have moved from job to job frequently, and they are more likely to have gaps in their resumes. Good training can help managers determine when these issues are truly problems — and can also alert managers to the unique skills parents bring to the workplace.

At The Mom Project, managers participate in an Inclusive Leadership for Managers training program, covering topics such as microaggressions, implicit bias and what inclusive leadership looks like. Tools such as these empower not just managers, but the workers they benefit as well, creating a culture that is informed, supportive and welcoming.

Second, ensuring contingent workers feel included and considered along with their full-time counterparts is essential. Werklabs provides detailed information on how to do so in their report Experience Matters: Elevating the Contingent Work Experience. We shared previously how leading with empathy goes a long way. Leaders can use training and tools to set the tone for a culture of inclusiveness.

Using a framework can support managers in developing inclusive practices that cater to individuals based on each team member’s communication style and learning preferences.  Embracing a tool like StrengthsFinder or Insights Discovery can foster inclusive conversations, increase self awareness, help discover what team members do best and foster collaboration.

Leading by example means sharing the “why”

Cultivating a great workplace culture takes time and effort. It requires organizations to truly be invested in empowering their managers and their workers. The best way companies can show all types of workers they care is training their managers well and by showing up themselves, proving that actions speak louder than words.

Transparency is important in building trust, and this can be achieved by sharing why actions are being taken and ensuring team members understand the “why” behind what is being asked. In any role I've had, I’ve always believed in the importance of each individual knowing the reason behind any action we take or are asked to take: What is the benefit this will have? How does it contribute to a larger goal or initiative?

Leading by example for me means asking people to take actions that contribute to team goals and company strategic objectives. I encourage my team members to take initiative — if you don't know why something is being requested, stop and ask. And if you believe you have an idea of how something can be done better or more efficiently, then I want to hear it! 

Collaboration is the way we can create the future we want to see — one that is inclusive, diverse and empowered through training that allows us all to thrive. If this sounds like something you believe in, join us in our mission to create a better tomorrow.

Be on the lookout for the last in this blog series with TAPFIN, coming soon.

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