Making the Executive Decision with Female LeadersMaddie McKay
Although I’m a young intern and not a CEO or any type of executive for that matter, I wanted to take a moment to imagine what it might be like if I, or many of the other young working women out there were. Young female execs are not the most common thing on the block, but why not? Why is the thought of a young women becoming a CEO such a monumental thing in this modern age? Should it really be groundbreaking to imagine? There are plenty of young men out there taking top positions in companies in their early 20’s, yet when I Googled “youngest female executives”, articles about top female CEO’s in their 40’s – most of whom you’ve probably never heard of – and call outs to female CEO’s leading billion dollar startups in their 30’s. For the purpose of this blog, I’m not talking about the Kylie Jenners and the Instagram influencers who own their own brands of the world – I’m talking about business, STEM and technology leaders, where the lack of women is evident. So let’s investigate the role of female executives now, what it could be and what it was.
The Reality of Women in Senior Positions
I’ve come across some concerning facts about the number of women in senior positions, but I believe we can change them. We can change the fact that only 31% of senior positions in North America are held by women and we can change the narrative that men continue to hold 90% of C-level executive roles in Canada and that women accounted for only slightly more than a third of all managers, and 32.6% of senior managers. In 2018, women made up just 10% of the C-level executives among Canada’s 100 largest publicly traded corporations and in the C-suite, the most common position for women among executive officers is CFO at 2.4%.
While any progress is good progress, at the current rate it will be at least 2040 before women will occupy even 30% of these C-suite and senior positions. By the time that happens, the millennial generation will be approaching retirement. Predictions indicating when women will have more senior positions and when the wage gap will close are being pushed back by decades, some moving from 2059 to 2119. Most of us reading this now won’t likely even live to see these goals come to fruition.
If we look at the CEO position specifically, only three of Canada’s top 100 companies had female CEOs in 2019 – down 3 or 50% from 2018 – and a new study has indicated a mere 72 women for every 100 men are promoted and hired as managers. For women of color and minorities, the numbers are even more dire, with women of color only taking up 4% of the C-suite positions we have today.
As Malala Yousufzai said, “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” This could not be truer, and a lot of this responsibility is on the shoulders of current industry leaders. We need to promote progressive thought in our teams. Companies that are gender diverse perform 21% better than less-diverse counterparts. As women, we bring new and necessary views, abilities, and leadership styles to the industry. It isn’t just enough to collect and track data, we need to take action to push the boundaries and break the limits that prevent women from reaching C-suite positions. It benefits everyone including shareholders, stakeholders and the bottom line, so no matter what your view might be, women in C-suite are powerful and advantageous.
Empower Women to Reach Senior-Level Positions
Women are more often judged based on their personality and their etiquette, with comments about being more “lady-like” or not being so “abrupt” not only hurled at them but given as areas for improvement on performance reviews. 93% of women deal with this while only 3% of men are critiqued for their mannerisms or personal characteristics. People have a clear image of what a woman should be, so much so that it considered as important as her performance at work. Sara Sanford noticed that if performance reviews are conducted more frequently and are based on a specific project, those comments towards women almost completely disappear. Keep it focused and keep it frequent if you want to remove more bias and provide more helpful insight to your employees.
Research also suggests that making certain details on job applications anonymous such as gender, race and name can reduce bias in the hiring process, applications for funding and other opportunities. Removing these specific details leads to a greater selection of candidates from underrepresented brackets. Anonymity has been shown to mitigate gender bias in research applications. When gender indicators were removed, more women were selected than when gender was obvious. Before any anonymity, men were outperforming women by 5% at The Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee and when the applications became fully anonymous, the women outperformed the men by 1%. The acceptance rate for women was 18% when gender was obvious, and this rate nearly doubled to 30% when gender became anonymous. While this is a good tool to use and something that may need to be implemented in the future for most businesses, it exposes the fact that women are losing out on a significant amount of opportunities simply because they are women. It will take a long time to correct the subconscious, or not-so-subconscious bias that people experience when making selections, but it is something that must be achieved to reach true equality for underrepresented factions in the workplace, especially in the science and the technology sector.
When it comes down to it, it isn’t just about the numbers. Even if we have a 50/50 split between men and women in the workplace, we need to set women up with more opportunities to have access to senior-level mentors. They need to see themselves in that position and to believe that they themselves can be a leader. We tell little kids they can be anything they want, but as they get older, especially for girls and minorities, they’re told they can be anything they want within a reasonable frame – but a CEO, now that isn’t so likely. We must change this narrative and stop lying to our children, prove to them they can be anything they want, we must fight for it if we forge forward, one day we won’t have to fight against unjust barriers.
Why Women In C-Suite?
In his statement, Brian explained the principles that have guided how they are approaching the layoff. In particular, he spoke to the need to align the workforce with a business strategy that will sustain the company through this period and beyond.
Why do we need women in the C-suite? Well, based on several studies in recent years, there has been an increase in evidence that women in executive positions and women sitting on corporate boards have a positive impact on an organization’s performance. A more diverse C-suite can lead to higher margins, larger profits, and improved total return to shareholders.
There is also evidence that companies who have a higher proportion of women in decision-making roles continue to generate higher returns on equity whilst also coordinating more conservative balance sheets at the same time, according to a report by Credit Suisse in 2016. In the areas where there are more women accounting for most positions in upper management, the organizations show prime sales growth, loftier cash flow returns on investments and lower leverage.
Even Kevin O’Leary – yes Dragons Den’s Kevin O’Leary – stated that out of the more than 40 companies he invests in, roughly 95% of the female-led companies meet their set financial targets, whereas only 65% of businesses with male leaders hit their financial targets. That means companies led by men hit their financial targets 30% less than ones run by women.
Let’s look at engagement: employees at female-run organizations have a more positive experience relating to their organization’s corporate strategy and mission, and its ability to communicate these topics. They also seem to be better at inspiring belief in the business’s offerings, which leads to increased employee engagement and employees at female-run companies are enjoying increased autonomy and satisfaction with their work-from-home policies, all of this compared to the organizations led by their male counterparts. We all know strong employee engagement and development are one of the most important things an organization can have.
The Good News
Now the good news is the number of women in the C-suite is increasing and initiatives, media content and events geared towards empowering women in the workplace are becoming increasingly available, it is also good that it is being acknowledged that it isn’t just on women to continue to push the envelope but on everyone, to alter the way they run things and try to remove bias from the design of our work structures. While a female executive maybe currently be an anomaly, I want to make it abundantly clear that women in these senior positions, should not be remarkable occurrences – they should be the norm. It is amazing to talk about women in the C-Suite, but there will be a day when we don’t need to create content like this because it will be normal for women to be in these positions. At our core, we need to see ourselves as leaders. If you feel like a leader yourself, it’s easier to be viewed as a leader by others. It is hard, but don’t let preconceived notions or societal perceptions and standards prevent you from believing that you are a leader and you have what it takes to be not just a leader, but an amazing leader. We can lead the change in the workplace and inspire the next generation leaders to come.
Canadian Women’s Foundation. (n.d.). The Facts: Women in Leadership. Retrieved from https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/women-and-leadership-in-canada/
Catalyst. (2019, August 7). Female Business Leaders: Global Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-management/
Hall, K. (2015, November). Women in business: entirely unremarkable. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kirsten_hall_women_in_business_entirely_unremarkable
Luzio, C. (2019, December 19). Women Leaders, Are We Really Prepared To Lead? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/cateluzio/2019/12/19/preparing-our-female-leaders-for-success/#4f8fd6446acd
Munford, M. (2018, February 26). It Is Time For Women In Technology To Lead The Way In Gender Equality. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/montymunford/2018/02/26/it-is-time-for-women-in-tech-to-shape-the-world-for-our-children/#6fee37885d3b
Paul, S., & Concordia University. (2019, March 28). The need for women in technology. Retrieved from https://venturebeat.com/2019/03/27/the-need-for-women-in-technology/
Sanford, S. (2018, November). How to design gender bias out of your workplace. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/sara_sanford_how_to_design_gender_bias_out_of_your_workplace
The Globe and Mail. (2019, February 19). Why putting women in leadership roles is good for everyone. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/globewe/article-why-putting-women-in-leadership-roles-is-good-for-everyone/
Vigo, J. (2019, March 11). Women In Tech: Inconvenient Truths And Changing Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/julianvigo/2019/02/23/women-in-tech/#355d86a545d7
Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2019, December 10). Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/06/research-women-score-higher-than-men-in-most-leadership-skills