How C-Suite Leaders Can Empower Working Women — and How We Can Empower Ourselves
Joanne Collins Smee
Women have always taken challenging times in stride — female entrepreneurs increased by five percent from March 2020 last year, more than double the pre-pandemic average. In addition, U.S. women-owned businesses grew 2.5 times higher than the national average.
However, many women are still not realizing equality in salary and advancement opportunities — not to mention the 3 million women who exited the workforce entirely during the pandemic.
So what can we do?
Deliver both straight talk and encouragement. I’ve observed it’s sometimes difficult for men to constructively critique women versus other men. To advance, women need all feedback that helps their career growth — and the encouragement to go for opportunities, even if they’re a stretch. If they don’t meet every requirement, that’s OK. It’s more about having the skills and potential necessary to build upon.
Be a sponsor, not a mentor. Mentoring can be passive: a semi-regular conversation or coaching session. Instead, make a point of actively sponsoring women for new roles and putting yourself on the line to help others achieve their goals.
Push for organizational flexibility. At various points in our career, many of us are raising children or caring for aging or sick family members. The responsibility for work and home can be overwhelming. We must create a common framework (and include male colleagues on these discussions) for a go-forward plan that provides meaningful support, coaching, and resources as needed so women and men no longer feel like they have to choose.
And to my fellow working women:
- Set goals for yourself. Be intentional about mapping out where you want to go in two, five, and 10 years. I’ve done this myself, and it's gratifying to go back to see what you've achieved and to recognize the fulfilling choices you took that may have deviated from the plan but, in retrospect, were exactly the right move for you.
- Don’t let fear hold you back. Take a chance on that next career, country, or company. If things don’t work out, it’s not the end of your story — it’s just that chapter. And think of all you’ll have learned.
- Learn constantly. Learning is never over. There are so many new technologies, new ways of working and leading, it’s so important to seek out these experiences and decide how to best apply them. Read a great book, seek advice from someone you admire, or attend a virtual conference.
- Give back. We only got where we are today because others have paved the way for us — women and men. We owe it to the next generation to do the same for them, to push for the types of changes in the workplace and society that we benefited from ourselves.
I’ve met and worked with so many amazing women in my career. Thank you to all those who have encouraged and supported women in their/our career journey.