Despite earning more advanced college degrees, women lag in executive leadership positions, board memberships, and compensation, because college does not fully prepare for the cultural obstacles women face once they arrive in the private sector. There are three things women can do to help change the status quo: rethink career pathing, sponsor women within one’s own companies, and openly talk about gender differences and inequality in the workplace.
Getting women in the right roles to gain the right experience is paramount. This requires rethinking of traditional career paths for women. Conventional wisdom tells women to choose more service-oriented career paths that lack the P&L responsibilities needed for advancement. We need to prepare women in college, and coach them once they enter the workforce to take risks and choose positions where their contributions are reflected in the company’s bottom line. I’ve benefited greatly throughout my career by taking risks and having the measurable results to show for it.
Once we get women into the right roles, we need to actively sponsor their advancement. Because women tend to have a less assertive communication style than men in promoting ourselves and seeking advancement, we need to sponsor high-performing women to ensure they receive the recognition and visibility they deserve. While mentoring is helpful, sponsorship takes a more active advocacy role, such as offering their names during informal discussions about new opportunities. I was fortunate to have a great sponsor. As the most senior sales and marketing executive, he recognized my achievements and put my name in the hat for new opportunities. I often ask up-and-coming women, who is your advocate? Who knows what you are accomplishing and is actively looking out for you? It helps to have a formal process.
Finally, as senior executive women, we must be willing to have courageous conversations. In the boardrooms and in the executive suites, we need to openly discuss the underrepresentation of women and minorities. If we want our companies to be relevant and successful in the future, leadership must reflect the world in which we live and work. And that includes women at all levels. The status quo is unacceptable. When we speak up, and only when we speak up, can we change the course of events.