Cultivating Women Leaders Creates a Better Workplace for Us All

We are living through a great historical moment for women in the workplace.

From “leaning in” to the #MeToo movement, women’s voices are being heard louder and clearer than ever before. We’re working together to create change on a grand scale – both in our society at large, and in our individual professional lives.

And yet.

The 2017 Fortune 500 list counted only 32 companies with female CEOs. That’s just 6.4 percent of the list. That’s also a record for the number of female CEOs for the Fortune 500, and last year’s list was the first to include a Latina CEO, Geisha Williams of PE&G Corporation.

So while we’re seeing women leaders make real strides when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, the fact remains that not enough of us have made it to the top.

There are, of course, multiple, complex factors at play here. But there’s one factor that those of us women who have been able to make it to the C-suite can actively influence: growing the female executive talent pipeline.

Female CEOs need to work harder to identify ambitious women on our teams

 Change starts at home – or, in this case, in our own workplaces.

Women leaders at the top of their organizations need to make it a priority to identify ambitious women who are potential future leaders on our teams. Who surpasses her sales goals every month? Who consistently brings in big clients? Who shows true leadership qualities every time she runs a meeting?

These are the women who have the potential to become the next female CEOs, and we owe it to them to recognize both their talent and their effort.

That’s not where our work stops, though. When I think about my own professional journey, I remember the women – and men – along the way who supported me, believed in me, and mentored me as I rose through PartnerCentric.

I consider it a privilege to do the same for the employees on my team who one day want to occupy the C-suite. While we business leaders should all be willing to share our time and experience with any of our team members – no matter their gender – who need a mentor, the simple fact is that women still face unique barriers in the workplace.

And sometimes, the only person who can fully understand those barriers is another woman.

We need to help more women see themselves as leaders

One reason mentoring can make such a positive difference in growing the female executive talent pipeline is that many women – however talented they may be – don’t actually see themselves running a major company.

Perhaps they aspire to a senior-level position, but they don’t think of themselves as holding that most senior-level position – CEO. Considering the incredibly low percentage of female CEOs on that Fortune 500 list, this isn’t too surprising.

Those of us in the C-suite have an opportunity to help other women in our organization see women leaders as the norm, rather than the exception.

This may take more effort than we think, at least at first. Hosting professional development discussions on women and leadership, taking the time for one-on-one conversations with female employees, supporting (or creating!) local women in business groups – these initiatives can have a real positive influence on women who have the ambition and talent to rise to the top, yet who maybe haven’t imagined themselves there yet.

More women in leadership roles will benefit all of us, not only executive-level women

Having more women holding executive roles is a good thing for business culture as a whole – not only the women who desire and aspire to those top-level positions. For one thing, a 2017 global study found that companies with women as head of the board of directors or as chief executive a 25 percent annualized rate of return, compared to 11 percent across the entire MCSI World Index.

For another, more women leaders can mean more equitable work/life balance policies, like paid parental leave regardless of gender, and flexible working hours.

After all, women are still more likely than men to hold responsibility for running their home and family life, in addition to their careers – we understand how demanding, and how equally important, our roles as mom, spouse, and professional are.

Finally, women executives are more likely to promote other women in their organizations and to give equal pay for equal work. These are two important contributions we can make to help correct the persistent gender inequity we’re still seeing in our workplaces.

We all have a role to play in creating the kind of equitable, thriving, supportive professional culture that we ourselves would want to work in. As women CEOs, we’ve also got a bigger opportunity than most to influence the future of working society. Let’s get to work.

Stephanie Harris is the owner and CEO of PartnerCentric, the largest woman-owned performance marketing agency in the U.S. Having been the company’s first hire and personally managed some of the largest programs in its portfolio, she believes a leader must know how to perform every role. Her writing has been featured in FeedFront, PerformanceIN and numerous other publications, and she speaks regularly at industry conferences. A strong believer in work/life balance, she lives in New York with her husband and four children.

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