Strategies for Surmounting Career Obstacles Commonly Faced by Women Executives

Guest Contributed By Melissa Henderson, Summit Executive Resources.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

According to the Pew Research Center, women represent a meager five percent of CEOs in the U.S. and only 17 percent of board members for Fortune 500 companies. That is despite the fact that women make up almost half (47%) the labor force.

Clearly, women executives’ upward mobility to become leaders and high echelon executives has been sluggish. For decades, many companies have largely used the same recruiting techniques. Not surprisingly, these methods duplicate past results, often placing men in the power positions. But, putting aside the structural, operational and human issues that prevail, there is still room to achieve your career goals more effectively.

Overcoming the Hurdles Women Executives Face

Here are five ways to take control of your career:

1) Understand Your Value Proposition

Women who think that offering gender diversity alone will open doors fail to develop convincing value propositions. To gain traction, crystallize the unique value you offer and brand it. That requires an extensive review of skill sets and domain expertise. It also means looking at sought after experience—operational, profit and loss, and global business know-how. Finally, women executives need to understand the market and where they can best meet organizational needs.

2) Overcome the Confidence Conundrum

Studies have shown that men have a tendency to overestimate their intelligence while women underestimate theirs, giving men an edge in confidence. Since we have a tendency to confuse confidence with competence, men more often to appear to have the qualities needed for leadership than their female counterparts.

Be confident in your abilities.

3) Network Authentically

Women mostly place a high value on authenticity, which is good. Many people, however, view networking as an inauthentic activity. Some women with this view are reluctant to attend networking events even though such gatherings can be important to their careers. Consequently, while men still flourish in the old boy’s network, women often fail to build mutually advantageous relationships. So become an authentic networker, and benefit from professional connections.

4) Beware of Your Own Unconscious Preference

Even outside of networking, you might expect women to give each other a helping hand. Women, like their male counterparts, however, unconsciously favor men when hiring. In blind studies, when resumes are presented without names, women with stronger qualifications than men are preferred. Yet if names are included, men are more likely to be favored.

5) Find Recruiting Methods that Reduce Bias

Boards often nominate new members from their old boy’s network. Meanwhile, human resource executives continue to turn to retained executive search firms for board and C-suite positions. Search firms are inclined to dip into the same pools, again and again, delivering the same old candidates. So as they fall into their old ways of recruiting, companies get more of what they have always had — men in power roles.

Women who want to crack the glass ceiling will find an executive agent to be a valuable resource. An executive agent works with them from the start of their search until they reach their goals. The process begins with questions about why a woman wants to serve on a board or to attain a C-level position and what she offers. As long as she has the passion and expertise to add value to an organization, the agent will be able to assist her.

An agent will use proprietary assessments, which are objective and eliminate gender bias, to define and validate a business woman’s unique value. They then help create her brand target the best-fit organizations. This service puts women in the driver’s seat, opening up opportunities that previously might have passed them by. That’s because their target organizations would have simply gone to executive recruiters who revisit their old networks that are heavily dominated by men.

Positive corporate results clearly show that women should be making gains in the boardroom and executive suite. However, in the top positions, they remain far outnumbered by men. To some degree, traditional recruiting methodologies hold them back. The good news, however, is that women executives can do more to achieve their potential. They can create stronger value propositions, build their confidence, network effectively and assist other women to succeed when appropriate. Also, they can explore recruiting options that will help them to open the right doors.