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4 Ways Women Can Leverage Their Strengths to Make It in the C-Suite

October 17, 2016, 3:53 PM UTC
The hands of man pulling the rope
Yagi Studio—Getty Images

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What advice would you give to women who hope to make it to the C-suite?” is written by Jane Edison Stevenson, global leader for CEO succession and vice chairman of board and CEO services at Korn Ferry, and Tierney Remick, vice chairman of board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.

In a continually and rapidly changing business environment, agile companies that have the varied input of diverse executive teams in discussion and decision-making have a distinct advantage. A diverse team—broadly defined by varied background, ethnicity, and gender—fosters an inclusive, innovative environment that is open to new ideas, approaches, points of view, and actively seeks constructive debate, all of which contribute to success.

A recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, for example, demonstrates that having more female leaders in top corporate management positions correlates with increased profitability.

The mere presence of women signals change, and their participation is associated with greater inclusiveness and openness. It’s something they sense intuitively, but can now also be quantified. A recent study of more than 2,000 Korn Ferry executive assessments showed that women possess more of the specific competencies organizations will require to be successful in a very different future, and that women also elevate the capabilities of those around them.

Of note: Head to head with men, women were more empathic, focused, and open to differences, and senior executive women were measured significantly more collaborative as a group than their male counterparts.

Perhaps of even greater importance: The less-senior group of women business unit leaders—future enterprise leaders—had even more of the competencies needed to make diverse teams work than the senior executives, including such traits as “engages and inspires,” “promotes collaboration,” “builds talent,” and “builds relationships.”

Despite these skills, women haven’t always had access to the experiences and roles to qualify them for leadership positions that leverage these strengths, which has been a lose-lose-lose for women, the organizations they work for, and society as a whole.

But that is changing, and you have an important role to play in creating these innovative organizations of the future—organizations that value diversity. Finding these future-oriented employers is half the battle, but here are several ways in which you can actively contribute to making these organizations a reality:

Choose employers carefully
Make sure to do your homework before signing on. You’ll want to research opportunities for women in leadership positions, including the current leadership team, the board, and even further down the ranks. Online sources can provide insights, but take into account the former-disgruntled-employee factor. Ideally, try to talk with current employees or alumni to complete your picture.

Know that you belong at the table
Doubt can undermine the career aspirations of even the most highly capable, accomplished women. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is usually less of an issue for men. Remember: You bring a valuable new perspective to any team you’re a member of, and you have earned your spot.

Join the conversation
Don’t keep that value to yourself. Learn to exude confidence, speak up, and articulate a minority view. CEOs and directors we work with often tell us this is the most valuable contribution of someone who brings diversity to the team—breaking up groupthink and injecting additional perspectives and options.


Seek visibility
Find other ways to demonstrate your value beyond your current responsibilities—perhaps by raising your hand for a committee or task force focused on a specific issue that will report back to management. Those responsible for identifying future leaders will take note of your initiative and your desire to contribute as a team member.

While women comprise more than half of the population, you wouldn’t know it yet by looking at C-suite-level executives in most organizations. Future women leaders can help to change that equation and the trajectory of their companies by playing a key role in driving performance, innovation, and collaboration. In doing so, and continuing to demonstrate the positive impact of diversity, they will be advancing their own careers as well as the value of their companies.