In 2017, the Fortune 500 saw a record number of female CEOs on its coveted list: 32, to be exact, which represents a 50% increase from the previous year. This brings the grand total of women who have graced the list to 64. While I was pleased to see such a significant leap in the number of female CEOs on the Fortune 500, the reality is they represent only 6.4% of the total list—and that’s just not good enough.
So how can we help women who aspire to executive leadership positions? It’s really all about supporting one another.
Getting to the C-suite
In the workforce, women can support other women in the following ways. It’s worth noting that these actions can provide value to both women and men with significant career aspirations:
Encourage mentoring. Through mentors, people can learn new skills and hone their leadership and management skills with trusted guidance. Companies with dedicated mentorship programs have reported reduced turnover and improved productivity, given the decrease in the amount of time it takes to get an employee up to speed in a new role. Plus, mentorship programs can help identify and train emerging leaders and put them on the right track for success.
Promote lifelong learning. I cannot stress the importance of having outside perspective from people—male and female—at your career level. Women focused on the executive track should find a professional organization that allows them to meet and network with like-minded individuals who understand where they are in their careers and where they wish to be. They can learn best practices from people who have “been there, done that,” and they may connect with someone who may influence a future career move. Many people overlook the need for lifelong learning, but I encourage women to invest in themselves by taking the extra time—don’t blow it off. Make it part of your professional development goals.
Have their back—and help them develop as leaders. Female leaders can back up other women in several ways, and some are as simple as giving women who are less outgoing a voice by engaging them in discussions and asking for their opinions. They can also support women in developing their own leadership styles, which, unfortunately, are often scrutinized as they climb the career ladder. While common stereotypes are not easy to overcome, I find that women can combat them by coming to the table with facts and data to support their claims and points of view.
Stress the importance of hard work. It takes hard work to make it to the top, and being a senior-level executive—male or female—isn’t a 9-to-5 job. I’m often asked if women can really “have it all,” given the demands of work and home life. Women need to find their own definition of work-life balance and stick with it. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a work-life “blender.” This notion considers the idea that work sometimes happens outside of working hours, while life sometimes happens at work.
Push them to take a leap. Did you know that if a job description calls for skills that one does not have, a man is more likely to throw his hat in the ring than a woman? To me, this points to a real lack of confidence in women. They feel that just because they cannot tick off every skill on the job description, they aren’t ready for the next step. Men may feel this way too, but they don’t often let it stop them from taking the new job or promotion.
As uncomfortable as it may seem, women need to take the leap to advance their careers—even if they’re not sure they are ready. Encourage women to go for the promotion and ask for what they want and deserve. Remember, skills can be learned from mentors or outside peer groups.
From the boardroom to the C-suite, female executives can have a lasting impact on organizations. So let’s make sure aspiring female leaders have the support they need to reach the C-suite.
By sharpening your skills, you can more effectively make the transition from manager to strategic leader.