3 Ways Women Leaders Are Improving Corporate America


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.

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