How to Increase the Number of Female Executives

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I’m a director at a Fortune 100 company.  I lead a team of people.  A tiny team, but a team none-the-less.  I’m in the “middle years” of my career with 13 years in and 20 years to go.  I’m in the place where my resume can now take up more than two pages with legitimate experience, but I haven’t been faced with a lot of the hard stuff one deals with throughout their career just yet.  Also, I’m a woman.

I work at a company where female executives are not uncommon, but in the overall corporate world we still see executive titles held primarily by men.  There’s so many theories why and I’m not interested in rephrasing everything Sheryl Sandberg taught us in “Lean In,” but I have been asking myself a lot lately about what we can do, in reality/practically to make the shift to more women in the big offices.

So as a woman, and a leader, and someone in the middle years…this is what I know so far:  when we are on our personal mission to make it to the top – whatever we deem “the top” – we have to pause and look around us.  All women in the workforce have to do this.  We have to stop in the moments of glory and the daily grind and the self-centered focus of getting a job done and performing above the rest, and we have to look side-to-side at the women next to us.  And if we can’t find them, we have to keep looking…or hire them.  We have to glance back at the generation behind us.  We have to lock in with those women, grab them by the hand, and say “girlfriend, you’re coming with me.”

And when we find her, we have to position her to have moments of glory.  We have to give her opportunities to shine.  We have to give her public praise and advocate for her and not just ourselves.  We have to look at her and tell her what she’s good at and don’t assume she already knows.  We have to speak directly to her and share the positive qualities we see in her and where we think it could take her.  And then we have to cheer her on when she starts to pursue it.

It is not a threat to our career to bring up other women with us, it is our job to bring up other women with us.  As Sheryl Sandberg says (in so many words) – have a seat at the metaphorical and physical table; and as I say, pull up a chair for another woman while you’re at it.

I went to a women’s leadership forum a couple years ago and oddly but perfectly enough, they had a male executive from a large company as the keynote speaker.  He was making a bold statement as an advocate for women in leadership at his company and he shared an interesting statistic.  He said when there is a job opening with 10 requirements/skills/experience listed in the job posting – if a woman has 9 out of the 10 requirements, she will not apply; if a man has 1 out of the 10 qualities, he will apply.

The only way women are going to continue to rise and get the office with the view is if other women continue advocating for them.  If you’re a woman in the corporate world, look around, find the other women and take them with you.