March 02, 2017 Practice Points

5 Strategies to Close The Executive Gender Gap

By Consuelo A. Mejer

A recent article published by, entitled “Strategies for Surmounting Career Obstacles Commonly Faced by Women Executives,” tackled the issue of upward mobility for females at the executive level. Specifically, as reported in the Pew Research Center’s piece “Women in Leadership,” although women account for 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, their presence at the top levels of the business world is very limited. For example, as of November 2014, women served as CEOs of only 5.2% of Fortune 500 companies, and took up only 17% of the board seats for these same companies. While these numbers, actually (and shockingly) represent major strides in upward mobility for women over the last twenty years, there is no question that women lag far behind their male counterparts in this regard, with the vast majority of top level executive positions still occupied by men. Accordingly, the article advances, women seeking these top positions need to employ new strategies to break the proverbial glass ceiling as follows: 

  1. Understand your value proposition. Think beyond the value of gender diversity alone and make yourself as valuable as possible in the workplace. Specifically, women should identify sought after experience and market themselves to these areas where they can best meet organizational goals.

  2. Overcome the confidence conundrum. Be confident. Women have a tendency to underestimate their intelligence and abilities where men have a tendency to overestimate.

  3. Network authentically. Learn to network in a way that suits you. Women traditionally view networking as an inauthentic activity even though it is good for building mutually advantageous relationships. Women, more so than men, place a high value on authenticity, thus women should find ways to network in ways that feel authentic.

  4. Beware of your own unconscious preference. Women, like men, have an unconscious preference to favor men in hiring decisions. Focusing on the unconscious preference may help to correct it.

  5. Find recruiting methods that reduce bias. Don’t rely on traditional methods of recruiting as they often hold women back.  For example, men (who make up the majority of board members) favor nominating new members from their old boys’ network. Moreover, human resource executives traditionally rely on executive search firms that use the same pool of candidates over and over again, leaving little space for new entrants. Accordingly, executive level female candidates should use an executive agent who will work with them from the beginning to end until they reach their goals. Taking advantage of these kinds of resources can be invaluable for women in opening up opportunities that would have otherwise passed them by.

The statistics don’t lie. While there has been some progress, men still far outnumber women in top level positions. The good news is that because 52.2% of managerial and professional occupations are held by females, (as reported by the Pew Center research in 2013), there are a substantial number of women who are well positioned to rise to the top. And by following the steps set forth in this article, including conscientious career development and planning, women can engender change and begin to close the corporate gender gap.

Consuelo A. Mejer is an associate at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C. in New York, New York

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