Women in Leadership Positions: Reaching the C-suite

Women in Leadership Positions: Reaching the C-suite

By Marisa Wolch


When you think 10, 20, or even 50 years down the road, what do you imagine a typical leadership team would look like for companies? Will most C-suites finally – and consistently – be more equal?

Equality in the workplace continues to be a hot topic. And every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder to all of us that even though our society has come a long way, women still face barriers in the workplace on a daily basis.

Women: It’s time for us to fight through the barriers and come out on top. In order to help us women to meet our potential, it’s important to understand what we’re up against.  Below I’ve highlighted barriers faced by women in the workplace, as well as ways we can help conquer these barriers and take a seat in the C-suite.


Barrier #1: The current state of the C-suite is not diverse

A 2015 report written by Rosenzweig & Company found that women hold 8.5% of the highest-paid positions in Canada’s top 100 listed companies. Since we do not see a large number of women holding these positions, it’s hard to envision ourselves in these roles, too. It seems as if progression is moving at a glacial pace, and it will be eons before we see equal representation of men and women holding these positions. Is there anything we can do to get there sooner and make a change?


Solution #1: Believe in yourself – take a chance

Leaders all have one thing in common: They’re risk takers. If you want to get ahead, you need to be courageous, take risks and believe in yourself. When applying to a job, according to Forbes, women will apply when they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet at least 60% of the job requirements. Get rid of any negative thoughts and tell yourself, “I can do this”. You may be surprised at the outcome. And if you don’t succeed, at least you know you tried, and you can learn and grow from this experience. Make failure your friend, learn from your mistakes and don’t give up.


Barrier #2: The need for work-life balance may be discouraging

Reaching the C-suite generally takes years of hard work, dedication and personal growth to gain the confidence, knowledge and leadership necessary to fulfill these roles. Especially when factoring in a family, finding work-life balance may further complicate things for women. For women who balance their career with being the primary caregiver of the household, they may be selflessly sacrificing their own wants, needs and desires and put their family first.


Solution #2: Set goals and celebrate milestones

A seat in the C-suite may seem far enough away without factoring in the demands of family and life – but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Set smaller goals that will lead you to your One Big Goal. Your continued success will keep you motivated and will help you feel rewarded for your hard work every step of the way.


Barrier #3: No access to workplace champions

The guidance and influence of a workplace champion is a key component in any woman’s continued career growth and success. A career role model can be irreplaceable when it comes to career advancement, learning and development. While it’s important to have a role model at work, we may focus on our day-to-day tasks, rather than seeking out a senior individual who can be our workplace champion. This can impede our ability to move upwards.


Solution #3: Actively seek out a mentor or sponsor for career guidance

Mentors and sponsors can be valuable guiding forces for you as you build your career. This person does not have to be a woman, as ‘male champions’ can be a great resource for women in the workplace, too. You can look for a mentor or sponsor in your organization, through networking, or through an industry association. Recently, a campaign with the tagline #GoSponsorHer generated a ton of discussion on social media. Campaigns like these are a great way to spur conversation around the subject of women in senior leadership roles, as well as connect young, aspiring female leaders with senior leaders online.  


Barrier #4: Continued learning and education is put on the backburner

Depending on their career stage, women may be juggling many different competing priorities. Throwing ongoing education or learning into the mix may not be among those priorities. When time is so precious, why would taking on another time-consuming task be a smart decision?


Solution #4: Look for learning and training opportunities at and outside of work

The need for continuous improvement doesn’t stall as you advance in your career. The more you learn, the well-rounded you become. But it doesn’t have to happen all at once – you can go at your own pace. Some companies will pay for and support continued learning outside of work, such as attaining certification from professional associations, taking courses, or even working towards a Master’s Degree or PhD. If not, and paying out-of-pocket is not feasible, consider attending workshops to build your skill set.


Know your self-worth, never settle!

While women have come so far even in the last 20 years, there’s still a lot to accomplish, especially the need for female leaders. Key traits of a successful female leader may be second nature to some of us, while others may need to develop these traits over time.

Never let anyone tell you your goal is silly or unattainable. Keep your eyes on the prize and it can pay off in the long run. By remembering anything is possible, you can help make the workplace a different, more inclusive place for future generations.  

For more tips on how to advance in your career, visit career-advice.monster.ca