While women in the workforce have evolved and gained ground over the years, national statistics indicate there still exists a large gender-biased gap at the top. In fact, women account for only 6.4% of the CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies.
Despite this, the women leaders who've earned coveted C-suite level spots in corporate America have changed the landscape and paved the way for aspiring leaders.
In our new book, Uplifting Women* (*Who Happen to be Women), we highlight 25 of the nation's most accomplished and influential women business leaders—who we personally interviewed—to uncover how each of them empowers and uplifts others as they seek to progress in their lives and careers.
And, along the way, we learned that those leaders breaking the glass ceiling are benefiting companies (and people) across the globe.
1. Diversity Improves Performance
According to a study conducted by global research firm MSCI ESG covering global trends in diversity on corporate boards, companies that have strong female leadership generate a return on equity of 10.1%, versus 7.4% for those without. Further, companies lacking board diversity, tend to face more governance-related challenges.
And many of the leaders in Uplifting Leaders concur.
“Women are more collaborative. They're willing to be questioned, and they consider other people's opinions and needs," says Darla Stuckey, President and CEO of the Society for Corporate Governance.
“Good women leaders aren't scared to ask the tough questions."
But the truth is, regardless of gender, no leader reaches the top alone. Running a business simply isn't a one-person job.
“One person can't ever have all of the best ideas or the best vision or the best way of getting things done," says Jenniffer Deckard, President and CEO of Fairmount Santrol in Uplifting Leaders.
“The more diversity of thought, experience, perspective and expertise, the better. It's the same for any group trying to solve, develop or accomplish something. And, that applies from corporate boardrooms to PTAs," she adds.Research published by the American Sociological Review reinforces this: “Gender diversity [in the workplace] is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits."
So, while a leader's gender may not always be the singular driver of success, it's the diversity of the team that they assemble that truly matters.
Barbara Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University has similar thoughts: “All the successful leaders I know and emulate have assembled really talented teams because each one of them has recognized they can't do it alone."
2. Women Leaders Use Emotional Intelligence
“[Women] probably delve into the emotional quality of things differently. Not to say that men don't—and some more than others," says Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton, CEO of Dream/Catcher Educational Consulting Services.
“Men build teams, but those teams aren't necessarily inclusive. Each team member may be doing his or her own thing toward a team goal. But women are more inclusive in helping each other perform their roles, in helping each other be successful."
According to brain and behavioral science experts, because of a woman's neurological makeup, she more typically uses emotional empathy skills—the kind of empathy in which one feels the emotions of others.
As a result, women tend to be better at sensing how others are reacting and thus nurture closer relationships.
Adena Friedman, President and CEO of financial giant Nasdaq, recommends women use this to their advantage. Friedman states, “When you listen and try to see deeply into the psyche of your client or employee, you can gain a deeper understanding of what needs to be done to improve the product or your relationship with the company."
3. Women Leaders Uplift Others
“Because I spent my entire career in male-dominated companies, I've tried to inspire other women to stick with it, to ultimately achieve that better balance," says Karen Parkhill, Executive Vice President and CFO of healthcare innovator Medtronic, said. “I know that the world, our companies and our communities will be much better off when we have greater gender balance."
Karen is just one of many female leaders throughout the country who've made a determined effort to uplift others.
Robin Kilbride, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Smithers-Oasis Company, attributes gratitude as the motivator for growing future leaders.
“Because so many people created opportunities for me, I have a responsibility to create opportunities for others," she says.
That commitment also rings true for Stuckey who was passed up for CEO twice over several years because a lack of management experience. Today, three senior women report to her, and she has made sure they all have management responsibilities so they won't face the same challenge.
Women are uplifting others in their legacies, as well.
When Ilene Lang, former President and CEO of Catalyst, retired in 2014, the company honored her by establishing the Lang Legacy Fund.
“The money contributed will continue the causes I was most passionate about—advancing women of color, inclusive leadership training and engaging men as partners in gender equality," Lang states.
What's the bottom line? More women in leadership positions yield improved workplaces and better business results. So, let's aim to turn to the tide—to shift currents in a positive direction so more women rise to the top. After all, it's not just the right thing to do; it's just plain smart business.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.