While today’s headlines and trending topics on social media are driving more discussion around women in the workplace, the reality is that there is still a troubling lack of women in corporate leadership positions. In fact, among Fortune 500 companies, only 6.4% have a female in the CEO position1. What can we do to drive further change? There are three areas to which attention should be shifted that can truly help to drive change in the workforce for women.
First, and perhaps the most significant, is pipeline. There are not enough women across different levels of the organization to provide companies with a broad choice when promoting for leadership positions. Across industries and sectors, that pipeline narrows dramatically the more senior you are in an organization. Additionally, if there are very few women, or as is sometimes the case, just one woman, who is targeted or identified for a senior role in the succession plan, it becomes challenging if she decides to take her career in a different direction or doesn’t succeed in the process. There are no other options – and the trend continues.
Second, and a contributing factor to the pipeline challenge, is unconscious bias. Far too often, someone on the promotion/hiring committee will be influenced by biases that are rarely verbalized in today’s environment, but still influence decisions. We must be ever mindful of evaluating the merits of each candidate based on objective criteria that defines success in the role. Remembering that diversity of thought, background and experience adds to the value that individuals bring to a leadership role.
Unconscious biases can be a silent career killer. They stifle growth. They limit options. How do we overcome unconscious biases? We have to call each other out on it in a professional, clear manner. We have to teach techniques at every level that help to identify it in ourselves and in others.
Third, I believe we as women need to do more to take responsibility for our own careers and exhibit self-confidence in our ability to lead and to succeed at all levels. There is much research to suggest women are more hesitant to take career-related risks or to apply for positions they think they might not be 100% qualified for. Meanwhile, a man who is 70% or 80% qualified for that same position may not hesitate to go for it.
Boards and senior leaders should create and implement plans to fill senior slots with women who are qualified for those roles, and this will trickle down throughout the rest of the organization. Companies should have systemic ways to provide options and opportunities for women as they work to elevate their careers. This is how we can build out that pipeline of great female talent. Simply put, women should be given the tools and resources to succeed and to thrive in a life that allows for their personal priorities including both career and family.
I’m often asked by younger women about what advice I can offer. I usually tell them the following: Find mentors who can help you understand your ambitions and build a plan to achieve them. Find sponsors who will advocate for you and your career. Have more confidence in yourself. Be careful not to downplay the skills that you’re acquiring in your current role. Instead, recognize and value those skills and make the decision to build on them. Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks, particularly when you have successes worth sharing. I know in my own career and those of many successful women, success came from taking on new and complex projects, moving to a different geography, changing career direction, exhibiting strong results in new areas. When you take calculated risks and have confidence in yourself, you’d be surprised at the energy you experience and the positive things that can happen.
1 Source: Fortune: http://fortune.com/2017/06/07/fortune-women-ceos/
This article represents the views of the author(s) only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG LLP