The journey to a top executive role can be a turbulent one, and women are particularly underrepresented in C-suite positions. However, there are several steps that organisations from multinationals to startups can take in order to ensure that the path towards leadership roles is open to all. In the UK, women hold only 30% of management roles and in Southeast Asia, 35% of senior executive positions are held by women. The percentage in China is 38%. While the trajectory of women in executive roles is on the rise, positive change is still desperately needed, especially given the known growth correlation between women in executive roles and increased company profits along with country GDP.
Here are a number of fundamental actions that businesses can take to create successful pathways for female executives.
Proactively Further Career Development
Provide support and mentorship to women early in their career to help them reach executive level roles. Offer opportunities and challenges to demonstrate what is possible and create an architecture with clear criteria for leadership. Also, allocate roles and projects that will help women grow and expand their abilities. Finally, take into account any gaps in experience that may have been caused by time away from the workforce and devise strategies to help fill them.
Organisations should provide female employees with opportunities to challenge themselves and stretch outside of their comfort zones. These challenges could include representing the company in public, leading a tenacious turnaround or taking on an international assignment. Such experiences can provide invaluable feedback and confidence that can help women confidently tackle future challenges. To ensure successful growth, mentoring and support should be provided along the way.
By offering opportunities for employees to work on challenging projects, companies can help to foster the development of women into executive roles. Helping to identify those with the highest potential, and provide them with the resilience and insights needed for career progression is a fundamental step businesses should take.
Advocate Roles Across the Entire Organisation
Support women into executive level roles by prioritising providing them with the opportunity to gain experience in P&L and operational roles. This is essential in order to ensure that they are on the same footing as their male peers when it comes to the CEO path. To support their career development, it is important to encourage women to gain an enterprise-wide perspective. One way to do this is by having them experience roles across the organisation. Additionally, having them lead cross-functional teams and develop a whole-company mindset can help to adequately prepare for the step up.
Level Up Boardroom Experience
It is important to look outside the organisation for relevant experience – being involved in a boardroom setting can lead to a major factor of success as leaders pick up leadership skills they otherwise would not have by being in that environment.
Having senior executives and colleagues with board experience who can help identify relevant opportunities is incredibly valuable and creating a referral network can prove invaluable to emerging leaders. Additionally, the unique skills and expertise that women bring to the table could potentially be a business's most valuable asset.
Diversify Outstanding Leadership
A repetitive theme we found in our Women in Leadership Whitepaper (published in 2022) was for women to find leadership mentors, sponsors, and role models. Additionally, leadership coaching and development programs being utilised to foster and develop essential qualities for success.
Companies must be genuinely committed to DE&I initiatives. Doing so has been proven to yield tangible results. Ensure your organisation is supports career development into executive level roles – do this by having inclusive and equitable HR policies in place. Regular 360-degree feedback should be monitored to ensure that DE&I is being made a priority and that inclusive leadership norms are being implemented. Leaders should also take the time to reflect on their own behaviour and assess how it is perceived by others.
Input Frameworks to Facilitate Aspiring Female Talent
Organisations should strive to create structured career pathways through objective selection and disciplined promotion practices, as well as the establishment of clear leadership criteria. Consider creating employee resource groups to provide support and mentorship for potential leaders. Design structures that account for the fact that women may be the primary breadwinners, yet still carry the majority of family and household responsibilities.
To promote equity and ensure women have the same opportunities to reach executive roles. For example, these could include providing childcare subsidies, offering inclusive parental leave and wellness incentives, flexible hours, and remote and hybrid working arrangements. By making these adjustments, organisations can create a culture of inclusivity that allows women to take advantage of the same opportunities without having to make inequitable sacrifices.
We hope you found these insights useful. Look out for Series Two of our Women In Leadership Series which delves into experiences of executive level females, helping us to understand their career path and actionable approaches to inspire positive change. If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org