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Taking the next step: How to get more women leaders in business

Taking the next step: How to get more women leaders in business

Studies have proven that having women in corporate leadership positions helps to improve corporate performance. That makes sense, considering that women earn 60% of all the undergraduate and master’s degrees in the United States. Despite an increasing demographic of women in business studies and in professional-level jobs, women represent a measly <15% of executive office holders, with a dramatic decrease at the CEO level. It seems like no matter the industry, women are getting the short end of the leadership stick.

But part of the problem is that, unless you’re headstrong and confident from the outset, many women struggle to see themselves, and have others see them, as leaders. It’s an identity shift that takes time and dedicated effort to cultivate. The good news is that every year more women make it into leadership roles; more women become business owners; more women are closing the wage gap. The path to that senior executive position is becoming clearer for more women, but there’s much still to be done.

Assess your opportunities

If your goal is to become a part of the growing population of women leaders in business, you’ll need a balance of skills and opportunities. I’m sure you’ve seen by now that being amazing at your job is not always the answer (but still essential!). You have to be sure to look for opportunities every step of the way, and from every angle.

Sometimes, or you might say most of the time, opportunities to grow come in the guise of hard work and extra effort. When you’re given a new assignment, task, or project, look at it from multiple angles: is it something you’ve done before? When completed, will you have new skills and expertise? Will completing that challenging task make you proud of yourself, more informed about business, and more capable to take on different challenges in the future?

As a future leader, you’ve got to learn to look around the corner, to see into the future. Knowing how challenges could play out in your favor, and give your career a boost will help you in the long run—and in the short term, I’m sure you’ll be even more driven to do an amazing job. Every new assignment is a new opportunity to prove yourself.

One of the biggest differentiators that I’ve seen for women approaching leadership roles is the ability and inner motivation to create opportunities for yourself. As a leader, you’ll probably need to take risks at some point, so you’d better get used to taking them now. If you see a problem, a gap, an untapped resource, take initiative and work towards a solution.

Personal priorities

As a leader, and as a mother, I know it can be difficult to swallow the notion that we have to choose: success or family. It’s a mantra that I’ve heard over and over again, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too. Forgo your family and personal commitments, and you’ll rise to the top. Or, let your career take a heavy hit, in order to grow and support your family.

Fortunately, many companies are beginning to see this issue, too, and are actively working to build in support and benefits structured around family life. Unfortunately, we’re not 100% there yet. But, this is a great opportunity to demonstrate your leadership prowess. People are used to the concept of negotiating salaries, but ladies, let me tell you: you can negotiate for benefits and work-life balance, too! You can become the beacon of change, the one who causes a shift in your organization. Because you’d better believe that if you’re feeling a conflict between work life and family life, other women in your company are feeling it, too.

While being a senior executive comes with a lot of perks, benefits, bonuses, etc. you can bet that it also comes with a lot more work, too. Regardless of gender, think about how your boss works. Are they traveling all the time? Do they work late into the night? Are they stressed all the time?

It’s critical to take a hard look at your personal priorities. If family is at the top of your list, and you’re still gunning for that senior executive role, you’ll need to stand your ground and draw a clear line around your work-life boundaries. You can make it work, women all over the world are doing it; you just need a thought-out plan and to set clear expectations from the beginning.

For businesses looking for female leaders

Congratulations! You’re on the forefront of progress, and must be looking to diversify skills at the top levels of your company. Women make excellent leaders, and can bring so much insight to the executive table. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to pluck women from your ranks, and put them into senior executive roles. You’ll need to take some time to make these changes, especially if you don’t currently have any women in senior executive roles.

  • Motivation: I’m sure there are plenty of women on your teams who are motivated to work, sell, increase the bottom line, and boost business overall. But, are they motivated to lead? We’re all savvy business people—a change in title is not always enough. After all, would you be willing to take on a new role, with more responsibilities, and more challenges, for nothing but a title change? Figure out what motivates your potential women leaders, and work with them to find a plan that works best.
    Beyond the title and other benefits that should come with a senior leadership role, motivation is key for success. Your women leaders can prove themselves and stay motivated by taking on challenging assignments that allow them to prove themselves.
    Putting your trust in women leaders to get the job done is a great motivator. When women (and all employees, at that!) feel empowered and autonomous at work, they’re going to put in the extra effort, because they know it’s they’re name on the line.
  • Recognition: For women to be successful leaders in your company, you’ll need to ensure that others recognize her contributions as paramount to overall success. The group buy-in is so important to garner respect from above and below. When your women leaders are respected and recognized for their efforts, they’ll go above and beyond as leaders. 
  • Direction: It’s best for everyone in your organization if you are clear and transparent about how potential is evaluated, and what skills and experience are most valued (i.e. how to increase potential). I’m sure that you have a mentorship program, or have at least thought about having one. Sync up your future female leaders with a mentor (especially if you already have a woman in a senior executive role!).

What’s great about getting ready to place women in senior executive roles is that you probably already have the processes and infrastructure in place. It’s not an insurmountable challenge: women are actively looking to be leaders; you’re actively looking for leaders; all you have to do now is connect the dots.

Control your career trajectory

Your career, and your success, are based on your work ethic, drive, and ambition. In the future, issues of gender in corporate leadership won’t even be a talking point, so don’t let those issues stop you now! You’re in control, and you’ve got the talent to make a great career for yourself. Take all of your opportunities to heart, and stay motivated, because you’re already on the path to success.