The general public is led to believe that companies are trying to become more diversified. But as recent as July 2014, surveys revealed that women and ethnic minorities outnumber white males by two to one in the U.S. work environment, but are still grossly under represented in the executive ranks.

Why do more men get promoted than women? Is it because companies frown on men who promote women? Is it because women executives themselves are reluctant to promote other women because it might reflect negatively on them?

Executive Women ImageRealistically, what can be done about a problem this persistent?

Let’s look at the benefits to a company if they hire more women at the executive level: Women bring a different perspective based on different life experiences for one thing.  “Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on the board outperform other companies with 53% more returns on equities, 42% more return on sales, and 66% more return invested capital,” according to a recent study. Having women on the executive board isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for the bottom line.

The times, they are a changing.

We have more women CEOs in the technology sector than we’ve ever had before – from Yahoo! to IBM: Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo!, Meg Whitman, CEO at Hewlett-Packard, and Virginia Rometty, CEO at IBM have all crashed that glass ceiling.

What are the common threads of these high-performing CEOs?

College educated

These women are college educated. They obtained a four-year degree and some have continued their professional development and acquired MBAs and higher degrees.

Strong experience

While a strong educational background can serve as a good foundation for executive leadership, it must be reinforced with experience. To reach the top of any organization, an executive typically works in multiple capacities in their industry before making it to the role of chief executive officer. Women typically have to work harder to achieve this, but the successful ones do.

Business & finance expertise

For any CEO, business and finance knowledge is imperative to being successful. Most of the top female CEOs gained this knowledge long before moving to the helm of their respective companies.

Filling a seat at the executive table

Because most CEO roles are filled from within an organization (very few CEOs are external hires), women seeking these positions should request positions with progressive responsibility within their current company, polish their communication skills, and be mindful that gaps in representation and compensation for women still exist but are improving.

Find a mentor

Having a mentor within the organization is also helpful for any executive wishing to improve their position within an organization. A mentor can be a real advantage to help navigate the pitfalls and challenges on the path to the corporate boardroom.

Helpful tips to reach your goal

1. Use common sense. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and constructively challenge what you are being told.

2. Build a strong support network. Relationships are key in business – develop relationships internally and externally.

3. Toot your own horn. Make sure your achievements are recognized. Too often women are not acknowledged for their contributions.

4. Learn from constructive criticism. You’ll likely not get to the top without hearing some constructive criticism along the way. Listen, learn, and act quickly to address the issue or situation.

5. Stand out. Capable and skilled women executives bring huge benefits to organizations. Don’t shy away from the unique value you possess.

Research has shown that many of the skills needed for successful leadership are often perceived as traditional female attributes. People who are collaborative, empathetic, loyal, and selfless were shown to be more successful than those who were deemed proud, resilient or independent. For women, it is a delicate balance to achieve this and an even greater reminder not to underestimate the importance and value that women bring to the executive team.

Female executives have proven that the road to C-level jobs can be a long hard climb. We’re looking at a future when more women will join the ranks of the executive trailblazers who have gone before them.


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