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What can women who aspire the c-suite do to get there?

Given the progress that women have made and evidence of the value they bring, the slow pace of change raises a question: What factors are at play regarding women’s progress toward the C-suite?

The disparity between women’s strong presence at the entry level versus their smaller presence at the top defies a single, straight-line conclusion. Instead, it’s likely a confluence of factors. Two in particular may merit more attention from CFOs than they have received to date.

First, there is the matter of “unconscious bias,” also known as “implicit bias,” a natural tendency on the part of even well-intended and thoughtful leaders to be influenced by attitudes or stereotypes that affect their understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases are, by definition, activated involuntarily, without awareness or intentional control. Despite being unintentional, unconscious biases can have significant consequences that affect everything from daily interactions with peers to larger decisions such as whom to hire and promote.

There are a number of actions that individuals and organizations can take to better understand and reduce unconscious bias. From an individual perspective, it is beneficial to simply question our assumptions: What informs the conclusions we draw about people? Organizations can build off that by facilitating conversations to increase awareness, foster an understanding of how unconscious bias impacts our thought processes and actions, and provide guidance on how to effectively manage it. In addition, organizations can set expectations around inclusive leadership behaviors and constructively call out potential missteps arising from unconscious bias.

Second, women may also face a hurdle in their own approach to career advancement. Research has shown that women are less likely than men to pursue a role if they don’t meet the full set of stated qualifications. And, they may wait for a nod of approval before putting themselves forward, rather than simply “going for it.” While there may be steps that can help combat this barrier,that doesn’t mean the way is clear for women to reach the CFO spot. Some of the oft-mentioned barriers such as attaining work/life balance, overcoming behavioral biases, and the simple fact that there are finite CFO roles in the Fortune 500, still come into play. Overcoming them can require a mix of traits and skills that combine to create a “total package”—and we’ll explore both in the CFO Insights Journey to CFO: What’s changed for women in 2017 – you can download here.

Journey to CFO: What's changed for women in 2017?