Part Two: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

Hi all,

This is the second installment of my review and insights about the Korn Ferry Institute’s report on women CEOs. If you didn’t read the first one, please do! I will ground us quickly by highlighting what I discussed previously. The last post examined what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs according to the Korn Ferry Institute, and next up I will share with you how the traits previously outlined are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

According to Korn Ferry the drive for these women CEOs was described in one word, challenge. Thriving on challenge, and having been less interested in competition was a huge factor for women CEOS. Korn Ferry found that routine job promotion is generally not enough to stake the thirst for challenge, and found that their interviewers stepped knowingly into less-than-desirable, ill-defined roles because they saw potential in these opportunities, like diamonds in the rough. Tell me, have you ever done that? I know that I have. I didn’t do it with the end potential that I wanted to be a CEO someday, but more for the potential that the opportunity would give me a skill I may have been missing, or teach me something I needed to learn. There have been times where I’ve been in a job that I wasn’t maybe crazy about, and kept telling myself that there would be a lesson or something I would gain from that experience no matter what. And, often times it doesn’t feel like that will be the case in the moment, but it always turns out that there is a lesson to learn in everything…whether big or small.

Now, to tackle the notion that women thrive on challenge and are less interested in competition. Korn Ferry also heard from their CEOs that sometimes they were so intensely focused on whatever challenges were before them that they neglected longer-term career planning and mastering the “political” aspects of the organization. A typical refrain they found was: “I was head-down, delivering results in my current role.” It is hard to not get caught up in that, especially if the thought of competition or playing office politics is not interesting. Korn Ferry found that they are largely disinterested in inside-the-company competition. They preferred to let their results speak for themselves. I have always been this way, but have also found that unless you have someone in your corner helping exhibit your good work, it can sometimes go unseen and not “speak for itself.” According to Korn Ferry, this challenge-centric mindset explains a striking observation from their interviews: 63% of the CEOs either didn’t mention organizational barriers or explicitly said they were not hindered by being a woman. In some cases, organizations were seamlessly facilitating their growth and grooming them for leadership. I guess I’m a little cynical, and find this surprising, but also somewhat comforting. Maybe a tide is turning a bit for women in the workforce?

Independence balanced with collaboration

Korn Ferry’s assessment also revealed higher-than-expected scores for a driver called independence. These scores also indicated another dynamic – these women were happy to get things done on their own, and overall Korn Ferry sees female CEOs exhibiting benchmark levels of collaboration, so this hasn’t impeded their desire to foster and lead teams, to build consensus or to share responsibility. Korn Ferry does explain however, that there is a cautionary flag here. Those who become overly autonomous in how they work can later find themselves without the support, networks, or advocacy that they need around them to become CEO and stay there. There’s that key again, support, networks and advocacy. Many of the women Korn Ferry interviewed had strong late-career sponsors who pushed their careers forward, but then discovered they didn’t have the broad support they needed for their agenda as CEO. Others found themselves blindsided by competitive executives, or without enough allies when they discovered others were waiting – or rooting – for them to fail. So, a little bit of politics and keeping your head up may be a better route to go in the long run?

So, then Korn Ferry posed the question, “why doesn’t such drive produce more female CEOs?” According to them, the fact that women must exhibit such a huge appetite for challenge to reach CEO speaks volumes about the systemic barriers many women still face. Their adaptations to that working environment, further, can harm their chances of success. So, there’s a fine line to toe here. According to Korn Ferry, we will never know, for instance, how many women didn’t become CEO because they were more independent than well-networked, or because their humility undermined how they were perceived, or because organizations didn’t recognize their drive. Those are very situational reasons and of course are hard to measure, but definitely something to make you think about. Finally, Korn Ferry discovered that multiple studies have documented that women are more likely than men to leave positions in which they are unsatisfied. That doesn’t mean work is difficult or unpleasant. The CEOs who were interviewed quit or turned down jobs when:

  • The company didn’t meet their standards for integrity
  • The role lacked a sense of larger purpose or
  • It was a place where people were treated very poorly

I think this is important to note. If it doesn’t feel right, morally or supporting a larger purpose, we will find something else to do or somewhere else to go. I have always believed, if you’re REALLY not happy…LEAVE! It does nothing for you to stick around when you are unhappy, and that goes for any situation!

So what type of things motivate women in the workforce? According to Korn Ferry, more are motivated by work-life balance. The participants in their interviews never shied away from hard work, and they took no shortcuts. But they did, on average, express more desire or work-life balance than Korn Ferry’s CEO benchmark. All of them were currently or had been married, and said they had supportive spouses, though some didn’t find that until a second marriage. According to Korn Ferry, being a CEO is not a one-person job, and this was acknowledged by the participants. A CEO’s partner has to “lean in” too. The partners of the women CEOs often took primary responsibility on the home front, managing the logistics and outsourcing of childcare, while choosing to stay home or take jobs with more flexibility. Some even said that their career affected what kind of mother they were. One said, for example, her children were resentful of her career commitments when they were young, but came to admire her accomplishments when they were older. I mean, I guess it’s nice that her children came to admire her eventually, but yikes – that kind of resentment is a bit scary if you ask me. According to Korn Ferry, many pointed out that being a mother added to their abilities as executive leaders and it gave them a particular grounding and sense of perspective, as well as gave them practice on patience and compassion, along with setting appropriate boundaries, creating clear expectations, and making unpopular decisions.

Korn Ferry also found that women are motivated by purpose  and creating a positive culture. Purpose and mission were central to their messages as leaders and working to create a more positive culture was a primary way those women carried out purpose and mission in their companies.

So as Korn Ferry does for every section, they outline key takeaways for women and for organizations. I want to continue to highlight them for you because I think if you take nothing else away from these installments, you takeaway from this section something that could be useful for you in the future.

Takeaways for organizations

  • Organizations need to re-calibrate how they recognize ambition.
  • The drive in high-achieving women may not manifest as corporate-ladder climbing or jockeying for promotion.
  • Men who might be motivated more by advancement could be more willing to take any promotion as long as it progresses their careers.
  • If women hesitate or turn it down, this can be misconstrued by the organization as a disinterest.
  • Organizations also have a big problem if women aren’t interested in the top jobs that are offered.
  • Sr. leadership and c-suite roles need to be described in a way that captures the challenge and opportunity they present, as well as what outcomes are possible and needed. This is what speaks to women’s sense of purpose and desire to contribute value and shape culture.

Takeaways for women

  • To navigate into leadership roles, women have to resist inclinations to be overly self-reliant, which can be part of that “head down” focus.
  • They need to create a strategic network, because without those relationships they don’t have influence on the things that matter to them.
  • Results don’t speak for themselves; some positioning and packaging is needed for people to notice.
  • Women should seek out not just difficult challenges, but also “high visibility” ones.
  • Negotiating with a partner or spouse as to who takes a big job and who manages the personal side of life is crucial. This can have implications very early on, even in the kind of person who chooses one chooses as a partner.

I hope you enjoyed this installment! Next up I will examine some of the major turning points in women CEO’s lives that impacted their road to CEO per Korn Ferry’s research.

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Part One: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

A couple of months ago I was attending a conference where they had a panel that consisted of Women CEOs, specifically in the utility industry. The panel participants were also the same CEOs who had been interviewed for a Korn Ferry Institute research project titled Women CEOs Speak – strategies for the next generation of female executives and how companies can pave the road. This project was also supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm. They help leaders, organizations, and societies succeed by realizing the full power and potential of people. Korn Ferry Institute is Korn Ferry’s research and analytics arm, and was established to share intelligence and expert point of views on talent and leadership. They do this through studies, books and a quarterly magazine, Briefings. They aim to increase understanding of how strategic talent decisions contribute to competitive advantage, growth and success. So, as you can imagine I knew immediately that they would have an interesting take on women CEOs (or lack-there-of).

What motivates a study like this? When roughly 94% of Fortune 1,000 CEOs are men you may ask yourself, “what qualities drive the 6% who are women in the most elite reaches of corporate leadership?” To find out, the Korn Ferry Institute studied 57 women who have been CEO – 38 currently and 19 previously – at Fortune 1,000 – listed companies and others of similar size. They analyzed structured interviews with all 57 women and the results of psychometric assessments taken by two-thirds of them. The Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the research, wants to change the astounding fact that only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. Re-read that again. Only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. I know I have written a series in the past about women in the workforce, and I try hard to not sound like a hell-bent feminist (not that there’s anything wrong if that’s how you describe yourself) but I try hard to support women’s rights but also not be so into it that I don’t have a realistic viewpoint of what is going on. I think this study does just that by taking a very hard look at what is keeping women CEOs from becoming a norm and not a “nice-to-have” at companies. The Rockefeller Foundation, has established a target through it’s 100 x 25 initiative which is to have 100 women leading Fortune 500 companies by 2025. Korn Ferry’s portion of that initiative, called the CEO Pipeline Project, seeks to learn from the women who have already succeeded at becoming CEOs, and what women in the workforce now can do to take the CEO path, and most importantly, what companies and organizations can do to help women succeed along the path to CEO.

I have a copy of the study and found it moving so much so that I wanted to share it here, along with my thoughts – especially given that I have never had a desire to be a CEO, let alone even manage people. Nonetheless, I still felt it was interesting and useful information to share. Also, I feel as if this holds a special place in my heart. When I was working at the utility, I was present for the announcement of the utility’s first female CEO. It wasn’t lost on me that I was witnessing history, and she was also part of this study. I hope you enjoy what I have to share and reflect on with this topic.

To ground this research, Korn Ferry gathered publicly available biographical data about all female CEOs in 2017 Fortune 1,000 companies and compared that to a parallel example of male CEOs who led companies of the same revenue size. Interestingly, when demographically compared, male and female CEOs look very similar, and while the differences are subtle, they definitely add up. Here is a quick comparison:

  • The women were, on average, four years older when they got their very first CEO appointment, though it is worth noting that in the study’s male sample many CEOs were their company’s founder.
  • Overall, the women accrued more diverse experience by working in a greater average number of senior roles, functions, companies and industries.
  • The fortune 1,000 data also reveal that female CEOs are not spread evenly across industries.
  • They are in greater numbers in consumer goods, utilities, and finance (particularly insurance), but less represented in industrial companies and the health and life sciences.

The next question Korn Ferry asked themselves to ground their research, was: “is 100 x 25 attainable?” The answer is yes, but the pace needs to accelerate. They found that in higher-revenue Fortune 500 companies, women held the CEO role at 32 companies in mid-2017, up from 12 just a decade earlier and two in 1997! Now, this next fact surprised me, especially in comparison to other countries…it currently takes 269 days on average to place a female CEO in the US – which is 30% longer than the 207 days to place a male CEO. When compared to Europe and Middle East markets, there is no such delay and women are placed 14% faster than men, and in Asia-Pacific where they placed women 22% more quickly. What Korn Ferry says this suggests is that boards of directors in the US still aren’t open to female CEOs as boards in other countries. So, what gives?

Before I dive a bit deeper, for those of you who have the analytic mind (not me), I will outline the Korn Ferry Institute’s research tools:

  • Korn Ferry conducted structured interviews with the 57 CEOs, asking about key events in each woman’s career progression, including pivoted experiences, set-backs, and factors that enabled or hindered her success. These were analyzed and coded to determine common themes.
  • Their assessment for executive leaders specifically measured:
    • Traits: A person’s inclinations and aptitudes, such as personality traits and intellectual capacity. Traits also include attributes such as assertiveness, risk-taking, optimism, and confidence.
    • Drivers: Deeply held values and internal motivators that guide a person’s actions and decisions. A desire for power, challenge, or work-life balance are things we categorize as drivers.
    • Competencies: The observable skills essential to management success, such as innovation and strategic vision.

Some of the main characteristics identified were personal fortitude and courage – or what they like to call “the right stuff.” That’s what female CEOs exhibited in their assessment scores, beginning with their traits. According to Korn Ferry, their mean score matched their CEO benchmark on 16 of 20 traits, including persistence, need for achievement, curiosity, focus, assertiveness, risk-taking, and empathy. I know, as a woman, that I have many of those characteristics myself, and they are among the characteristics about myself that I am most proud of, so it was no surprise to see those reflected in their study. The places in which women deviated from the benchmark were in humility, confidence, credibility and openness to difference.

I have always believed that how you are brought up and just your own personal makeup is identified early on in life. Korn Ferry’s study found similarly, that personal traits are not immutable, but they are established early in life and difficult to alter. So, the close alignment to the CEO benchmark suggests that these women had the style and mindset of a CEO early in their careers. I thought this was so interesting! So, remember when you hear someone say – that little girl will be a CEO someday…they just might be on to something!

Additionally, Korn Ferry found that humility and valuing others reign over confidence, ambition and drive growth out of early formative experiences, and their outlook is optimistic and fearless. I’ll break them down below:

Humility and valuing others reign over confidence

  • High humility scores indicate a lack of self-absorption and more importantly, an expressed appreciation of others.
  • These women are very willing to give credit to people and situations that contributed to their success.
  • The female CEOs repeatedly made note of people who’d helped and supported them.
  • Credibility is generally shorthand for delivering on your word, but in their assessment it also captures something better described as dutifulness or “good soldier” behavior.

These are so interesting to me. All of those characteristics described above are exactly what I like to see in a leader, and I know for a fact I have made gripes and complaints of a leader lacking in all of those areas. Why isn’t this the norm in all leaders? Maybe that’s the problem – it should be the norm, but it is hard to come by. Could there be a direct correlation between that and the lack of female leadership? Maybe!

Ambition and drive grow out of early formative experiences

  • In the interviews, they heard that these traits have deep roots.
  • Asked about “key events in your career progression that contributed to your development as a person or a leader,” many spoke first not of their career but of their childhood. In their interviews, 23% of the key events the CEOs chose to discuss were about personal experiences unrelated to work.
  • Parents instilled resilience, high expectations, and a strong work ethic in their daughters. Some CEOs had particularly difficult childhoods – a parent was ill or deceased, for example – and they had to take on responsibilities when quite young.
  • More than 40% of the CEOs earned undergraduate college degrees in science, math or engineering. This prevalence of STEM degrees may seem surprising, but similar rates are seen in male CEOs as well.
  • Another 19% studied business, economics, or finance, while 21% were in the arts and humanities.

Their outlook is optimistic and fearless

  • Generally speaking, the women CEOs were not at all cynical about the corporate world they entered.
  • Their traits scores and interviews both indicated that they are highly optimistic, trusting, sociable and empathetic.
  • The interviews underscored how much emphasis these women placed on being authentic and remaining true to themselves.
  • Compromising on their values – or on their vision – is not in their makeup, even if it would mean turning down some opportunities for advancement.
  • Some said they didn’t feel they could give their all to a goal, strategy, or company that they didn’t believe in.
  • These women seek input at critical stages, then solidly make up their mind. And these women are exceptionally focused on pursuing their own vision.

What I especially appreciate about this study, is that they highlight key takeaways from each section for women and then separately for organizations. As you can imagine, especially given the numbers Korn Ferry offered about the slowness in approving women CEOs, organizations and companies can still take a word of advice on how to cultivate and identify potential women CEOs. To give you a taste of how Korn Ferry offers key takeaways for each section, below I have listed the takeaways for the information just outlined.

Takeaways for organizations

  • The traits that made these women CEO material – curiosity, willingness to take risks, persistence, and a need for achievement – were reinforced early in their lives. But these traits are not rare among women, and can be further cultivated in the workplace.

Takeaways for Women

  • An education in science, math or engineering sets a strong foundation for becoming a business leader.
  • While confidence is important, tempering it with equally high levels of humility doesn’t seem to have hurt these CEO’s careers.
  • Women should also pay attention to the issue of openness to difference. Women who are in the minority in an office might presume they are sufficiently exposed to differing (in this case, male) points of view. But CEOs aggressively seek out others’ opinions as they shape their own strategic vision.

I hope you have found this first installment of the Korn Ferry Institute’s “Women CEOs Speak” interesting. To really give you a detailed idea about what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs is a great way to ground the study and to kick off my series of posts. Next up I will share with you how the traits outlined by Korn Ferry in this blog post are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

Let me know what you think about this blog post and anything else you’d like to share about female CEOs!

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Amazon Weekly Roundup

Hi all!

Here is a weekly Amazon round up for ya! I am indeed working on a post with a little more substance than this, but in the meantime I wanted to share some Amazon items I think are great deals and I may be interested in purchasing.

The first is these rubber Birkenstock dupes! I had an awesome girls trip a couple of months ago to San Diego and one of my girlfriends had the actual Birkenstock version of these and she loved them! So, here’s a version for even less.

rubber birks

Next up is the St. Tropez Applicator Mitt. I LOVE the St. Tropez self tanner foam – it really is the best, and I’m one of those stubborn people who didn’t buy the mitt along with the self tanner, but it really is a must. This is in my cart and I will be purchasing as I have a trip to Santa Barbara coming up soon and these pasty white legs will need some color, and preferably without messing up my manicure!

applicator mit

So, I have a water flosser and it’s the best! This one is a similar version to what I have, but actually more compact. I received one for Christmas last year and I’ve added it to my dental routine!

water flosser

I have been very interested in exploring the whole essential oil diffuser thing, and without breaking the bank I think this find from Amazon is a good choice. It’s in my cart as we speak, but may still do a little more research before I pull the trigger on it. Definitely interested though because I’m a huge candle person, so why not essential oils?

diffuser

Last but not least, Meyer’s hand soap is 15% off on Amazon right now. I love this stuff, and usually get it from Target, but it’s not always marked down at Target. Definitely always have a spare bottle in the cabinet for when I run out.

meyers handsoap

That’s all for this week. Like I said, I’m working on a really great blog series that I’m hoping to get launched in the next couple of weeks, and I have a Fall FabFitFun box to review as well!

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