Why Women in Leadership? The Bottom Line

Why Women in Leadership? The Bottom Line

This month Ajna is profiling the Women’s Empowerment Principles, created by a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Global Compact.  The seven WEP principles offer guidance to companies on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. 

Women in Leadership is Good for Business

While the numbers of women in first line and middle management have been steadily increasing, above 40% in some cases, the number of women in senior leadership positions is still woefully low.  WEP has a message for companies – having women on their boards and in senior executive positions is not just the right thing to do, but also increases company performance, leading to better bottom line results.

Since 2004, Catalyst’s Bottom Line series has shown that:

  • Companies that achieve diversity in their management and on their corporate boards attain better financial results, on average, than other companies.
  • Companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales by 16 percent and return on invested capital by 26 percent.
  • Companies with sustained high representation of women—three or more women board directors in at least four of five years—significantly outperformed those with no women board directors.

Need more evidence?  Girls Rule, a 2010 Forbes article by Michael K. Ozanian, shows that companies led by women clearly improve bottom line results for investors.  The stock performance of the 26 publicly traded companies with female CEOs on the Power Women 100 list was compared to the overall market, of course dominated by companies with male CEOs.  The group of companies led by women outperformed the overall market by 28%, on average, and their respective industries by 15%.

Leadership Promotes Gender Equality

The first of WEP’s 7 principles, Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality, focuses on what steps companies can take to further gender equality both within their own companies and in the world:

  • Affirm high-level support and direct top-level policies for gender equality and human rights
  • Establish company-wide goals and targets for gender equality and include progress as a factor in managers’ performance reviews
  • Engage internal and external stakeholders in the development of company policies, programmes and implementation plans that advance equality
  • Ensure that all policies are gender-sensitive – identifying factors that impact women and men differently – and that corporate culture advances equality and inclusion

The Bottom Line for Women in Leadership – 3 strategies to empower your career

As much as we’d like companies to adopt WEP’s first principle and promote all the great women in their organizations, we know this won’t happen overnight.  So, what can you do to enhance your bottom line and increase your chances of moving into a senior leadership role?   Here are the 3 most critical tips for advancing your career:

1.       Say ‘Yes’ to opportunity

If you are presented with an opportunity at work say, “Yes.”  Whether it’s a new project assignment, additional responsibility or a step up, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities to expand your skill set and experience, especially those that are high profile.  You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) say ‘yes’ to every request that comes your way, but it’s extremely important for a woman’s career growth to be willing to take the crucial roles or “hot jobs” when offered.

A recent research project by Catalyst, The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the Pipeline, found that getting the large and visible projects, mission-critical roles, and international assignments advance a high potential’s career further and faster.  Unfortunately, the research also showed “that women get fewer of these critical experiences necessary to advance.” So, when you get an opportunity, take it.  Another one may not come your way.

If you’re not being offered the high profile projects or “hot jobs,” try putting yourself out there and ask to be considered for the next big opportunity.  

2.       Deliver results and accept praise

No matter what your job, it’s imperative that you deliver results. Delivering results isn’t just working hard.  There are lots of people in your organization who work hard.  They aren’t necessarily the ones that get promoted.  In order to achieve your career goals, you’ve got to produce positive, tangible results for your organization.

Delivering results also doesn’t mean you can never have a misstep or make a mistake.  It does mean that if you do have a misstep, you are able to overcome it by producing a better result.  Potato chips, microwave ovens, 3M post-it notes and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies were all initially mistakes.   

When you deliver great results, it’s also important to take credit for them.  Many women are uncomfortable with praise.  We often deflect recognition by giving others credit: “Thanks, the team did a great job.”  According to Marsha Clark, organizational development consultant and a leading women’s empowerment guru, “When we take ourselves out of the story, we’re giving everyone else permission to do the same.” Don’t take yourself out of the story.  When you deliver, stand up and proudly accept the recognition – you deserve it!

In her ground-breaking program, Power of Self, Marsha teaches women leaders that:

                                “RESULTS + RECOGNITION = SUCCESS”

3.       Turn your believers into advocates

One of the biggest advantages men in leadership have over women is that powerful men often advocate for other men.   The current buzzword is ‘sponsor.’  Having a sponsor or an advocate is different than having a mentor.  A mentor is someone you talk to and get advice from.  A sponsor is someone who talks about you; who advocates for you.  Both are important, but having an advocate may mean the difference between you or someone else getting that next “hot job.”

Know who the influential leaders are in your organization.  Look for opportunities to turn these powerful sources into people who believe in you and your potential.  If you have someone that believes in you, ask that person to be an advocate for you or to be your sponsor. 

Don’t cringe.  I know it may sound uncomfortable, but most men are very comfortable advocating for others – they do it for each other all the time.   Men frequently use their networks and connections to help them climb the corporate ladder, it’s normal for them.  In order to compete, it’s important for you, too.

By employing these three strategies, you give yourself an advantage. And hopefully one day, WEP’s efforts will be realized and you’ll be one of the majority of women in leadership making companies better and producing great bottom line results.    

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Passionate advocate for the advancement and empowerment of women. Prior HR exec and co-founder of Ask Ajna - helping women find their voice in the workplace.

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