Women, who hold about 25 percent of leadership roles in Fortune 100 companies, still rarely break into the top three jobs: CEO, president or chief operating officer. Only about six percent of women hold these top three titles, a number that has been flat for two decades.
Women in top jobs tend to congregate in support roles like legal, finance, marketing and human resources.
How can more women break into the top echelon? Here are five moves ambitious women should make to break into the top three jobs from my new book, “The New Brand You: How to Wow in the New World of Work.”
1. Make personal branding a priority: Realize that personal branding is not optional in the new world of work with hybrid, remote and in-office working. It wasn’t easy to be recognized when everyone came to the office in person every day. It’s even more challenging now.
2. Actively seek a role with P&L responsibilities: General managers and positions in operations have profit-and-loss responsibility. It’s the yellow brick road to the corner office and you must take that path if you want one of the top three jobs in the company.
3. Seek out projects in the sight line of the CEO: You must get your work and talents recognized by the right people beginning with the top honcho. Don’t wait to be tapped. Volunteer.
4. Speak up in meetings: It’s not easy when you are in meetings with Alpha. males, but figuring out ways to break through the noise with your point of view is critical.
5. Dress like a CEO in waiting: It may seem superficial, but looking the part is important. Clothes are silent ambassadors who convey power messages about you. Women are scrutinized more than men in terms of visual identity, clothes and hair styles, so let it work in your favor.
Taking these five steps can help women break through the strongest glass ceiling of all?—?the one protecting the top three executive jobs in corporations.
While gray hair for men in the office often brands you as the wise sage who brings gravitas and experience to a meeting, gray hair (and age) is rarely an asset for women.
In her Washington Post opinion piece, “Thank You, Miss Clairol, columnist Ruth Marcus tells the story of Lisa LaFlamme, 58, the anchor of Canada’s most-watched nightly news show. LaFlamme was sacked after 35 years with the CTV network and replaced by a 39-year-old man. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/23/lisa-laflamme-gray-hair-workplace-sexism/
According to reports, La Flamme, like many women, decided to go gray during the pandemic. Her new boss reportedly asked, “who approved the decision to let Lisa’s hair go gray?”
Really? Does an adult woman need permission to go natural?
Fair or not, the reality in study after study is that women are under more scrutiny in terms of how they look. Appearance counts more for women and age hurts women more than men in how they are viewed. That’s why Ruth Marcos colors her hair (as do I).
It reminds me of a remark by Dee Dee Myers, the first female presidential press secretary: “People can’t hear a word that a woman says until they decide if they like her hairstyle or not.”
During Covid, you were forced to work from home.
Now, if you choose to work from home, you’re choosing to not be in the office. And that doesn’t sit well with many bosses.
Bosses often assume you’re doing less when you opt for hybrid or remote work.
The reality is the opposite.
A January Gartner survey of 4,258 employees found that 43% of remote workers and 49% of hybrid workers were highly engaged, compared with 35% of on-site workers.
Bosses favoring office workers could stall career growth for working-from-home employees, particularly parents and especially mothers, who choose to work from home as the better choice to juggle their workload. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-uneven-odds-for-promotions-with-hybrid-work-11626062462?page=1
The drive to get more women and minorities on boards is picking up speed. This week the Nasdaq stock exchange headed by female CEO Adena Friedman proposed new diversity and inclusion rules for corporate boards that most companies don’t meet. In short, Nasdaq is proposing to delist companies that don’t have at least one woman and one minority on their boards. https://www.wsj.com/articles/nasdaq-proposes-board-diversity-rule-for-listed-companies-11606829244?mod=article_inline.
Mandates can make a difference. Just last year, California passed a similar mandate and it’s working. Already, California has increased the representation of women and minorities on the boards of companies with headquarters in California. Of the 138 women who joined all male boards in California since the mandate, 62% are serving on their first company board according to reporting by Axios’ Courtnay Brown. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-nasdaq-chiefs-diversity-stunt-11607469679
Not everyone is pleased by the idea of mandates. The WSJ’s Holman Jenkins Jr calls the proposal “A Nasdaq Chief’s Diversity Stunt.https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-nasdaq-chiefs-diversity-stunt-11607469679
We’ve had many wrong calls about this being the “year of the woman” over the last decade or so. All the prognosticators were wrong. The march of women leaders wasn’t sustained, but this year might be different. The era of women leaders might be a reality that sticks.
The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib recently gave a rundown of the key evidence for the rise of women power based on their showing in the 2020 elections in the United States (WSJ, November 17, 2020):
• Senator Kamala Harris will become the first woman vice president of the United States.
• An all-time high number of Republican women were elected to the House of Representatives, doubling the last high number of Republican women representatives.
• Women voters were the key reason Biden won. In fact, the entire winning margin for Biden came from women.
• For the second presidential election in a row, a woman was in charge of the winning presidential campaign (Kellyanne Conway in 2016 and Jen O’Mally Dillon in 2020.
• There is a record number of women being chosen for key cabinet positions, such as Janet Yellen for Secretary of the Treasury (another first).
Alas, we may finally be seeing political leaders who reflect the electorate in terms of gender who, hopefully, will bring about a more diverse points of view and a less polarized political environment.
Women are wired for empathy. What a powerful tool that can be in a crisis as New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern has demonstrated twice in the last year.
Her first crisis was the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. She immediately shared heartfelt compassion for the victims, condemned the hate talk of the shooter and affirmed the country’s values. Later, she took action by changing the country’s gun laws.
Now, Ardern is being praised for her handling of Covid-19. On March 21, 2020, she addressed the island country from the prime minister’s office, last used for a major announcement in 1982, so it heralded the importance of her message. She spoke of the pandemic with empathy and specifics, outlining her pre-emptive strategy to “fight by going hard and going early.” She followed up with weekly Q&A sessions from her home, and taking a twenty percent pay cut.
This week, on a Facebook Live video, she announced that the country has “won the battle” over Covid-19 with three consecutive days with no new cases and 21 deaths so far in the country of nearly five million people.
What’s next on her agenda? She’s working on a plan to rebuild the economy.
I have always found it hard to find clothes that are professional and stylish. Finally, there is a group of fashion startups launched by women focused on clothes you can actually wear to the office. Bloomberg Business Week features four of them: MM. LaFleur, Senza Tempo, Argent and Les Lunes in its Fall Style Special.
It’s important, especially for women, to look the part at work because of the connection people make between how you look and how people perceive you and your abilities on the job. You’ll never make it to the C-suite if you look like a secretary.
Dressing for work has always been easier for men. Men tend to wear a uniform to work: a dark suit and tie in a formal office setting and khakis and a button down shirt for casual offices.
Women have more choices but also more opportunities to blow it. As the Argent website puts it, “Women face a sartorial double bind, too original or forgettable, too feminine or not enough, too uptight or casual. It’s time to change the conversation – and your clothes.”
How you dress is even more important than serving as a means to create positive perceptions about your abilities.
Studies have found that what we wear at work even affects how we perform. You truly can dress for success.