This year, 140 women per every 100 men will earn post-secondary degrees. Yet only 18 women are leading Fortune 500 companies—and that three percent is a record!
McKinsey reports that nearly three-quarters of all executives believe that more women in leadership roles would drive better financial performance and multiple studies prove that such leadership benefits the bottom-line. So what’s going wrong and what can we do about it?
Our collective narrative tells us we must do a better job of nurturing our women leaders and removing the obstacles that keep them from rising to the C-suite. I agree.
It’s become clear, however, that this strategy alone isn’t sufficient. More than 50 years after the birth of the modern feminist movement, women today occupy 53 percent of entry-level positions, 40 percent of manager positions, but only 19 percent of senior executive jobs. The success that bright, ambitious, and talented women achieve in education is steadily eroded in the business world.
We need to appoint more women to top positions now. And that’s not just in pursuit of best hiring practices—it’s smart business strategy.
In my view, we can eliminate barriers only if a critical mass of women are advocating from the top. We need to change the culture of how we think leaders should lead, what they might look like, and the importance of whether a “Mr.” or “Ms.” precedes their names. Men dominate leadership positions in most industries, including nonprofit. Most men and women would agree that there is often tension between a woman’s approach to leadership and what we all have come to expect. This might be due to preconceptions of an ideal leader, which reflect our dominant male culture.
So how do companies flex to accommodate diversity in leadership? Organizations must work to discern their own patterns of talent management. Despite good intentions, the executives currently in the C-suite are not best equipped to spot these often-subtle trends. It’s imperative that companies get a critical mass of women into positions of influence to help identify and address these dynamics.
We need to appoint women at the top now—and use their experience to help eliminate the cultural barriers that prevent women from seeking and earning leadership roles. Only then will we be in a position to reap the benefits of the unique perspectives of female leadership that can help drive an organization’s future success.