Don't Wait for Senior Leaders to Notice You: Break Through the Barriers by Being Proactive

Goldman Sachs recently announced a major staff shift in promoting 465 employees to the level of managing director. Significantly, especially for an industry in which women have been historically underrepresented, 29% of this group of newly-minted managing directors is female.

Goldman Sachs is not alone in its quest to add more women to leadership ranks. Nationwide, women are increasingly represented at the highest levels of corporate America. For example, California recently marked a 20% increase of females at the board level. Employers may have a variety of reasons to increase the representation of female staff in positions of authority. It could be due to the sheer presence of large numbers of qualified individuals who happen to be female. It could be a recognition of certain desirable traits found disproportionately among female leaders. Or, from a cynical perspective, it could simply be to boost numbers for PR reasons.

After all, while on its face 29% seems laudable, why isn’t this percentage closer to or even more than 50%? While we’d like to see companies making their own moves to add women and people of color to the ranks of leadership, the sad reality is that those being overlooked may have to take some proactive steps of their own.

Making the Right Moves

Female employees don't need to rely entirely on the whims of companies to move up the corporate ladder. While companies can take matters into their own hands, so can female executives, states Jennifer Buras, Senior Partner at Essex Partners. Below she shares how women can plan to join boards and bring a broad spectrum of thoughts, perspective and ideas to the boardroom table.

  • New leadership capabilities abound. While financial expertise, and the ability to serve on the audit committee is always valued and historically provided by male executives, new director appointments are reflecting broader skill sets including digital; international; environmental, social and governance (ESG); and HR expertise—skills that women can readily address.

  • Talk it out. Most people get their first board seat through their personal networks. It’s crucial to increase visibility and develop authority as an expert or thought leader in a particular area by seeking immediate opportunities to stand out. This might include serving on a panel, making presentations, being quoted in a publication and creating and contributing your own thought leadership content.

  • Understand your personal brand. Customized assessments that provide a clear picture of your strengths, aptitudes, and leadership style can help lay the foundation for a focused career plan. Taking a deep dive into your own core competencies can help you understand your value proposition and what you can bring to a leadership role.

  • Get educated: Evaluate your fit and the market. Read up on corporate governance and current board topics. Ask your employer if they offer programs that provide educational opportunities for certification that help you execute on your strategy. Being well-versed on corporate governance and leadership competencies can help you stand out to gain coveted leadership roles and opportunities.​

While women have made great strides in workplace and leadership participation in recent decades, they still largely lag behind men relative to their share of the overall population. As Buras notes, women who feel they have leadership potential shouldn’t rely solely on the organizations they work for, or with, to help them break the glass ceiling. There are a number of ways they can break through the barriers by taking matters into their own hands.

Recommended Reading

Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion training solutions and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.

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