In my career, I have been fortunate in that I have never felt that I have lagged in my ability to advance. Over nearly 30 years, each time I felt I had achieved a new career milestone, I was presented with increasing opportunities. I don’t mean to imply that it has been easy; on the contrary, there were many days I felt that the uphill battle was one that could never be won.
My personal life experience includes a great education, combined with parenting that helped me believe I could achieve my goals with perseverance and hard work. I combined this with my own personal drive to succeed, which has led me to where I am today. However, as a woman and mother, I know I have had to make more choices and trade-offs than my male counterparts, and the lack of female role models made my leadership vision unclear as I progressed in my career.
Despite my own hard-won successes, I know that women are seriously underrepresented in executive leadership positions, board representation, and on the high end of the salary scale in corporate America; it is worth looking deeper to try to understand the reasons behind this. Statistics show that today more women than men earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at our universities. Additionally, studies show that men and women coming out of our universities have similar career aspirations and are presented with similar advancement strategies early in their careers—so why the big gender gap in the C-suite?
In my experience, educated women are more likely to put their career goals on hold in order to follow their desire for personal life aspirations. When this occurs, women who have the economic option to step out of their careers often do. It is a personal sacrifice; I know many highly-educated women who have taken this path because they felt they had no other option and they often dream of the career that might have been.
I believe that the organization that can adeptly provide flexibility within the corporate framework, works to eliminate gender-based stereotypes, provides a wide range of diverse role models, and has leaders who believe that more diversity of thought will produce better, more innovative solutions, is the organization that wins.
When asked for advice from younger women, I always remind them that their career is long and that they shouldn’t be in a rush to do everything before they are 30. Continually readjust your priorities and ask for what you want—you’ll be amazed at how often you can get what you ask for—and how the opportunities you never would have considered could be the best thing for you.