How Can Companies Support Female Leaders?

While more women have joined the C-suite over the last several years, men still occupy a vast majority of senior business positions. Only 24 women are CEOs of companies currently on the 2018 Fortune 500 list. That’s down from 32 in 2017—which, at 6.4%, was the biggest share of women on the list since it was first published in 1955.

This same trend holds true in the world of startups. In 2017, female founders got a mere 2% of all venture capital dollars. Only 16 of the 134 U.S.-based “unicorns” (companies with a $1 billion-plus valuation) are led by women. Clearly, we can do better.

<em>Harvard Business Review</em> recently interviewed 57 female CEOs to find out why women are underrepresented in the C-suite and determine what women and businesses can do to increase their representation. The authors discovered that women tend to have to work harder and longer to become CEOs. They also tend to shy away from bragging about themselves and are instead motivated by a sense of purpose and the ability to make a positive impact. Both of these attributes seem like they would be positive, but since corporate boards have shown a tendency to prefer naming self-promotional candidates to executive positions, humility can have the unintended consequence of keeping from the upper ranks of management.

How can businesses increase the chances women end up in CEO positions? The authors make some recommendations:

  • – Identify candidates early. Don’t wait until someone has expressed interest in a senior position. Find them first.

  • – Nurture candidates from the outset. Many women in the study didn’t realize that they could end up as CEO one day. Make sure all candidates are aware of the possibility they could become the head honcho.

  • – Write engaging job descriptions. Women are motivated by having the ability to make a profound impact in the world. Instead of highlighting requisite experiences, deliverables, and responsibilities, frame CEO job descriptions in a way that inspires candidates of all genders.

  • – Avoid the “glass cliff.” Research shows that women are more likely to be put into what are considered high-risk senior positions. In these instances, in the event of failure, it is critical that organizations help them regain their footing in other roles.

We still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the C-suite, but if companies pay more attention to these guidelines, all businesses will be the better for it.