As an executive resume writer/career coach for more than 20 years, I’ve seen changes in the landscape—mostly good news for women, but a few troubling trends as well. In honor of BlueSteps Executive Women in Business Month, I decided to poll my team of writers/coaches to gather a few tips and ideas to help female executives navigate that landscape.

Thanks to my colleagues Wendy Enelow, Laura Gonzalez, Cheryl Simpson, and Patti Wilson for sharing stories and success strategies.

The “old boy network” still exists in much of academia. According to Wendy Enelow, “senior-level female executives in the #2 position comment that they'll never get the #1 job because trustees and faculty want a male leader.”

  • Women executives: If you can’t break the glass ceiling, consider moving to an institution where it has already been shattered.
  • Educational institutions: Stop shortchanging yourself! Women presidents are having a profound effect on their institutions and the surrounding community. Excellent examples from my home state of Massachusetts include large universities (Harvard, MIT) and small colleges (Simmons, Bay Path).

The traditional male concept of “command-and-control” leadership is falling by the wayside, replaced by a more collaborative style that plays to women’s strengths. According to Cheryl Simpson, women executives “blend the best of male business management traits (logic, decisiveness, aggressive action) with the relational and perceptive gifts women are known for. This allows them to temper the downside of the male traits while effecting lasting change in the workplace.”

  • Women executives: Identify your personal brand so that you stand out in the hiring process because of your innate talents and strengths – not as a clone of a traditional male executive.
  • Corporations: Recognize the world we’re living in now and the major changes we face globally. Be open to a new style of leadership that can help you thrive in this ever-shifting environment.

Discrimination and resistance still occur from men being supervised by a women. This reversal of traditional roles can feel threatening to men and make it difficult for the woman supervisor to succeed and the organization to thrive.

  • Women executives: Balance your strength and decisiveness with your national intuition and relationship-building skills. This story from Cheryl Simpson illustrates the point: “A BlueSteps member told me how she overcame intense male resistance when she led a business operation in Europe. She listened intently and resisted the urge to walk in the door and make all kinds of changes. She focused instead on building trust and relationships and studied the differences between her native culture (US) and her then-current business culture (French). She was able to build consensus while driving much-needed change and had a real career success story at that company.”

According to Patti Wilson, “The glass ceiling is alive and well, and it is global. In many Asian countries, for example, woman may not be able to rise to the executive suite unless the employer is an outside multinational company. Further, women seem to be able to rise closer to the top in what are more ‘traditional’ woman's functional areas such as Human Resources and Training. On a brighter note, women around the globe have made great strides in fields such as accounting and medicine that were traditionally male-dominated.”

  • Women executives: Evaluate your career dreams with a view to your environment. Determine if you need to change functional areas, change companies, or change geographies to reach your goal of becoming a senior-level executive.

As Laura Gonzalez notes, it is important for female executives to understand any limitations that might stand in the way of being viewed as prime candidates for leadership roles. You can’t blame a glass ceiling if you don’t have the same qualifications as other candidates.

  • Women executives: Look one or two jobs ahead and learn what credentials the top candidates have, then strive to build your resume and continuously improve your knowledge and credentials. You might pursue an advanced degree or certification, or do something as simple as joining (and participating in) a professional association.

According to Cheryl Simpson, “Driving, ambitious women are more and more moving to entrepreneurship and self-employment as a means to blow out the barriers to opportunity and glass ceilings to fast-track their career opportunities for themselves.”

  • Women executives: Consider entrepreneurial opportunities, where age, gender, and other barriers are simply not a factor. There’s no one to stop you being the top executive at your own company!

If you can’t break through the glass ceiling, can you go around it? As Laura Gonzalez notes, “my most successful executive women clients have a very ‘go-get-them’ attitude. They don’t sit back and wait for things to happen.”

  • Women executives: Learn how to manage your career, build your network, and create a robust online identity. Understand your personal brand and craft the right messages to convey your unique value to different audiences.

The good news is that current trends show increased numbers of women in key positions (including CEO and CFO) and on Boards. In fact, we have seen tremendous progress in our lifetime!

BlueSteps Executive Career Services team members have extensive knowledge and expertise that can help you break through barriers and achieve your goals.

Louise KursmarkThis article was written by Louise Kursmark.

One of the leading career experts in the U.S., Louise works exclusively with senior-level executives in career transition—helping them "tell their story" in a way that is compelling, memorable, and relevant. Louise is the author of 20 books on resume writing, interviewing, and job search; was the first person worldwide to earn the prestigious "Master Resume Writer" credential; and is a six-time "Best Resume" award winner. In addition to her private-practice work with executives, Louise trains and educates other career professionals as co-founder and director of the Resume Writing Academy and the annual Career Thought Leaders Conference and Symposium. She also directs BlueSteps' Executive Career Services and hand-picked the team of writers and coaches providing premium services to BlueSteps members.

Join BlueSteps to connect with Louise and the other executive career coaches and resume writers of BlueSteps' Executive Career Services.  

Celebrating Executive Women in Business and Women in the Board Room

In honor of the official American Business Women's Day on September 22nd, BlueSteps has launched an Executive Women in Business Initiative throughout the month of September. We will be featuring podcasts, interviews and more with female executives and executive search consultants throughout the month. In addition, we are offering 25% off BlueSteps Membership to all female executives throughout the month.


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