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Let’s Help Women Lead Us to the Future of Work

In HBO’s hit show, “The Last of Us,” a global pandemic turns humans into monstrous “infected”—essentially zombies. Havoc ensues. A hardened man is tasked with caring for a scrappy, hilarious teenage girl who’s immune to the virus. The stakes are high: She may be the key to saving humanity.

Sounds cheesy, but I like that a young, powerful woman represents salvation. She’s the cure. She’s the one they’ve been waiting for. That’s certainly in line with how we at Bonfire think about the role of women in the workplace. We’re emerging from our own pandemic that has wholly upended our way of life. While the zombies we’ve had to fight off are (mostly) in our own minds, the fault lines in our society have certainly been exposed, and they’re haunting us all. The longstanding gaping inequities in every sector of life are demanding attention everywhere we turn, and our workplaces are no exception. Organizations always reflect social realities, so the tumult in the outside culture will naturally be experienced in the cultures where we work. So where do we turn for salvation?

To women.

I recently wrote an article for Training Industry magazine about the urgent need to train women for leadership. Social norms and expectations are always evolving, but the pandemic seems to have shifted us into fifth gear. Women, people of color and other groups relegated to the sidelines are demanding much more than token representation. They are stepping forward to become the architects of the future of work. Employees and consumers expect more than lofty diversity, equity and inclusion commitments from companies—they want systemic change, and they want it now. If businesses expect to survive, they need a new approach to “leadership development”—one that probes the very assumptions we make about power, how it is shown and shared.

A focus on women—how we help them show up, stand out, and break through—is essential. Research shows that women managers boost employees’ well-being, act with greater inclusivity and generate enthusiasm at work. So the question is, what can companies do to leverage these well-documented leadership traits? Because of the current labor market, companies routinely bemoan a “talent shortage.” It’s time to do what fashion experts have long used as a standing strategy: shop your closet. Approaching your existing wardrobe with a fresh lens (and a new mandate) yields surprising new results and unlocks under-leveraged innovation.

This is Bonfire’s approach. We ask companies to send us their women and over six months we offer them a perspective shift on the opportunity they have to lead in new ways. We remind them of their innate capacities, and offer new skills to help them develop their own point of view, align their ambitions with their own values, and boost their influence to ensure their company-wide impact. Our endgame? Equipping women with the skills and beliefs to build the workplace of the future, one that works for all.

If the women you know—the ones you employ, manage, or work among—are eager for a new approach to leadership development, reach out to us. I haven’t finished watching “The Last of Us,” so don’t tell me…but I’m rooting for that girl to save the world.


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