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Putting an End to “The First Woman…” Headlines

Putting an End to “The First Woman…” Headlines

We’ve all seen the headlines. They read something like this: “First Woman Appointed to So-and-So’s Board” or “The First Female CEO at XYZ Company.” Women in leadership are still so unusual that the media has to acknowledge when an organization breaks normal standards. It’s great, but I hope this trend ends soon.

The disparity of women in leadership has long plagued businesses in America.

While these “first female” headlines show that leaders are making progress, the numbers remain discouraging. According to Lean In’s 2019 Women in the Workplace study, only one in five C-suite executives is a woman. On top of that, females are being promoted less often. The study states that for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, just 72 women are given similar opportunities. Compare that to the 257 years the World Economic Forum estimates it will take men and women to reach equal pay, and business futures look fairly bleak.

Movements like Paradigm for Parity have similar goals to mine. They want males and females to be equal in status, power and opportunity by 2030. It’s no secret the positive effects women in leadership have on a business. Organizations that are more gender diverse are more creative and have a better understanding of their consumers which leads to better decision making. Not to mention the profit gains – firms with more females at the C-suite level see a six percentage point increase in net profit versus the median of just over three percent.

So, when I see a “first woman” headline, I’m excited because it means we’re moving forward. However, I want to live in a world where organizations already have gender diverse teams and there are fewer “firsts.” One where females can reach those levels of leadership and it’s not front-page news. It’s just normal.

How do we make women in leadership the norm?

It starts at the top with executive leadership making a commitment to bring parity to the workplace. They also need to work towards ending biased practices within organizations that put women at an unfair disadvantage. They also need to make it clear that this change is not about promoting unworthy people, but about making sure ALL talent is considered. After all, this is a business issue, not just a women’s issue.

Another vital aspect to supporting this transformation is that the women’s initiatives must be strategically aligned across the organization, throughout talent management and succession planning. It’s not enough to just send females to training or to have a women’s group.

At IMPACT Group, in addition to coaching high-potential females in an organization, our Women in Leadership programs work with HR as well as the women’s managers. Over time, we begin to see a culture change that empowers a company’s entire workforce. From executives to HR departments to hiring managers to female employees – it breaks through barriers to help females rise to leadership positions. We find that women who participate in our programs are more likely to be promoted and stay with their company long-term.

What can you do now?

Think about this as a business issue, not a women’s issue. You want your organization to be successful and having more women in leadership is statistically going to help make that happen.

Leaders, reflect on your own potential biases and how you manage females versus males. Do you have the same types of career or strategic conversations with both? If not, then you are likely holding women back from reaching their highest potential.

Another great way to improve the women in leadership disparity is to become a sponsor for a female. Women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored. They need someone to go to bat for them. They need assurance that their name is brought up at critical times for promotions or stretch assignments. Sponsoring someone is also great for your career; you’ll be known as someone who spots talent. So, get to know up-and-coming leaders, especially females and minorities. Help make sure their names are on the table for future opportunities.

Doing this can help turn the tide, making the 2020s a brighter place for business women; one where headlines that read, “The First Woman…” are a thing of the past.

How ready are you to address gender diversity and empower your high-potential women? Download our Analyze Gender Balance Workbook to assess the current state of your company and determine which areas need attention. Get your copy here!


Contribution by Lauren Herring

Lauren Herring is the CEO of IMPACT Group. She propelled the company into a global career development leader. As a second-generation female business owner, Lauren is uniquely positioned to help future women leaders succeed. She is passionate about building a better world and helping people reach their career goals. Lauren serves on various boards like Boy Scouts, Washington University’s Women’s Leadership Forum, Connections to Success which helps people in the cycle of poverty gain economic independence and St. Louis Regional Chamber, which supports the economic growth of the St. Louis community.

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