October 10, 2012 Practice Points

"Undeterred" and Other Traits of Successful Women Business Leaders

By Joanne Geha Swanson

Only four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, reports Forbes guest columnist Elissa Sangster, but with one-third of MBA spots now occupied by women, “the pipeline is improving.” This next generation of women business leaders might be well advised to take a few cues from the four percent who beat the odds. Ms. Sangster, who is the executive director of the Forté Foundation, an organization that promotes and advises women in business, has a top 10 list.

Successful women will not be deterred, Ms. Sangster reports, despite “the persistent underrepresentation of women” in the business world. They adopt a “know thyself” mantra to identify career opportunities and ways to improve performance. “[W]omen leaders tell us that insight and self-knowledge are key,” Ms. Sangster writes. “[F]ind a mentor, and learn to ask for and accept honest feedback.”

Success in business and family life are not mutually exclusive. Women leaders find ways to make it all work. If they “take a career off-ramp,” they learn the way back and get the domestic help they need to “save their sanity” (whether a full-time nanny or someone to clean the house). Finding an organization in line with their values and passion is also key and trumps the trappings of job title and salary.

Successful women learn how to negotiate and don’t wait to be recognized. They “find appropriate ways to summarize their achievements and take credit for their performance,” Ms. Sangster explains. They build relationships with colleagues, cultivate their networks, remain flexible, and don’t plan their career moves too far in advance. Continuing education may also be key. Many have found that obtaining an MBA was “a game changer.”

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, gender, income, career, women, leader


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