Strong professional networks, a background in STEM, and sponsorship support may help women advance to a leadership position, reports a study by Korn Ferry and Rockefeller Foundation.
Researchers at Korn Ferry interviewed 57 female chief executives from Fortune 1000 companies and others of similar size, write study authors Jane Stevenson and Evelyn Orr, for Harvard Business Review. Researchers also compared the psychometric results of female executives against a benchmark of predominantly male high-performing executives, Stevenson and Orr write.
Among the key findings:
- 40% of the executives began with a STEM degree;
- Less than a third of interviewees set out to be a chief executive; and
- More than two-thirds of interviewees report being motivated by a sense of purpose.
Based on their findings, Stevenson and Orr identify five steps to build a successful pipeline of female executives:
Step 1: Find potential leaders early
Organizations can develop promising talent early by ensuring women have access to leadership opportunities, Stevenson and Orr write. High-potential development programs should teach women how to lead people and how to run a business, the authors recommend.
Step 2: Encourage women to consider the CEO role
Two-thirds of Stevenson and Orr’s interviewees said they never thought of becoming CEO until someone else suggested it. The path to leadership must include sponsors and mentors who will recognize and encourage high-achieving women to consider executive roles, Stevenson and Orr write.
Step 3: Build networks of support
Once talent reaches the senior executive level, sponsors become critical to guiding an aspiring executive’s career moves, the authors argue. According to four interviewees, the absence of a sponsor hinders career development, Stevenson and Orr add.
Step 4: Communicate your organization’s impact
The interviewees pursued roles that not only added business value but also positively influenced their communities, Stevenson and Orr note. To attract more female executives, communicate a leader’s potential to make a meaningful contribution, the authors recommend.
Step 5: Support female executives during a crisis
Research suggests that women are more likely to land a senior leadership role when there is a crisis, write Stevenson and Orr. While difficult situations bring unique learning opportunities, a high-profile failure can hurt a promising careers, they warn. To retain top talent, organizations need to offer opportunities for women to recover if a high-risk situation fails, Stevenson and Orr write.
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