Three Keys To Help You Rise To The Top

Three Keys To Help You Rise To The Top

I had the privilege of being a guest on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show, Mornings with Maria. We talked about women being represented on boards, and we agreed that, though the trend is up slightly, progress is still moving too slowly.

That troubles me. I and others like me are on a fervent mission to educate, write to and encourage women to rise. And while a few women have risen to be CEO’s and corporate board members, many more have climbed the ladder only to stall several rungs below top management. They are clearly top leadership material, but they are mired in the middle, a frustrating development for both them and their organizations who could really use their unique talents and gifts to be even more successful.

A couple of years ago I interviewed top women leaders, women who have managed to move through the maze and end up at the top, for my book, Women Make Great Leaders. I thoroughly enjoyed these conversations and I learned a great deal about how they got there. There were quite a few aha moments for me during those exchanges. I discovered some truths–keys if you will–to help unlock the door to high level leadership for women.

First, let’s look at some facts and figures:

Women have made progress, but they haven’t consistently progressed to the top

According to Pew Social Trends , the share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high of 6.4% in 2017, with 32 women heading major firms. But the share fell to 4.8% in 2018 after several high-profile women left their posts, including Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co. and Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The late Katherine Graham, of The Washington Post Co., was the first female CEO to make the Fortune 500 list, in 1972. As recently as 1995, there were no female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list.

On the other hand, the share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled, from 9.6% in 1995 to 22.2% in 2017. Again, good progress, but not enough.

There’s economic benefit in having women in leadership

The Peterson Institute for International Economics did a survey with 21,980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.

“A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders,” the report notes. “By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”

Women make teams smarter.

And, all of the evidence says that women make teams smarter. In their June 2011 Harvard Business Review article “Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women,” Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone wrote: “There’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQ’s of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.” The authors and their assistants had given standard intelligence tests to subjects between 18 and 60 years old. Each team was asked to solve one complex problem along with completing such tasks as brainstorming, visual puzzles and decision-making exercises. “Teams were given intelligence scores based on their performance. Though the teams that had members with higher IQs didn’t earn much higher scores, those that had more women did.”

What I Learned from My Interviews

The successful women I interviewed for my book gave me much to think about and ponder. There was so much important information that space doesn’t permit me to share all of it with you. So, let me boil it all down to a few thoughts.

If you want to be successful, you’ll need three critical elements that seems to be a part of every successful woman’s journey:

  • Ask for what you need and want.
  • Be a generous team player
  • Know how to help drive the firm’s strategy and financial results from where you sit.

I would only add this piece of advice: Don’t make the men in charge of your organization your enemy. You will need champions, trusted advisers to help you interpret the business landscape, inside the firm and out. And you can’t be mentored by an adversary.

So, work really hard. Make friends. Be kind. Listen carefully. Say yes to opportunities when they come your way. Make yourself invaluable, and you and your organization will rise. Contributor

It is a true privilege to be a columnist at Forbes. Forbes is a community of talented people with deep knowledge in their genre.

The women I know who have high-responsibility leadership positions are all risk takers.