Empowering women is not a “woman’s” cause, nor a “social” cause. While aiding the empowerment of women indeed benefits women, it ultimately benefits the global business community. Empowering women to reach for and attain positions of influence in the workforce recognizes the value of diversity. Therefore, empowering women is an economic cause.
Women today are the key influencers of purchase decisions. In the auto arena, women influence 80 percent of all car purchases, and account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases. Companies with a stake in capturing the power of the female market segment must align with that same segment in their own companies by hiring and empowering women as key contributors to the company’s success.
Companies that do embrace the contributions of women are rewarded. Organizational Health Index (OHI) measures external orientation, coordination, control and six other factors. According to a Mckinsey study, companies with three or more women in top positions scored higher in OHI. Companies with high OHI displayed superior financial performance.
Beneficial attributes that women bring to the workforce include exceptional leadership abilities. Competencies in this area include intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making, and setting expectations and rewards. Women also are skilled networkers and visionaries in strategic and operational thinking. Despite obvious benefits, empowering women is not a tactic universally employed in business today. We can review some sobering statistics. By comparing the global employment rate, of which 64 percent are women, we see that the U.S. lags behind considerably at 47 percent.
To illustrate this, as talent enters the pipeline, many companies hire equal numbers of men and women. But as employees move up the ladder, the number of women in leadership roles starts to wane. Women represent 53 percent of new hires; 37 percent are in middle management (a key first step in career advancement); 26 percent are in a VP or senior role; 14 percent are in an executive or CEO role; and only three percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
How do we, as a society, help women “shatter the glass ceiling”? Drawing on my own experience, it begins with a commitment to breaking stereotypes and working to change institutional mindsets. In particular, a woman’s career development must be approached with a number of strategies in mind.
As a woman, I have seen that it is important for us to be confident in our qualifications and capabilities. For an optimal work-life balance, we should set expectations after we land the job. Also, don’t be afraid to take chances and do not say no to any opportunity. It is also important for women to contribute to productivity improvements in the workplace. For this reason, it is very beneficial for women to train in disciplines with impact on productivity such as finance, professional services, and science and technology. Women should also actively pursue a mentor, become mentors themselves, and always share their knowledge with others.
Also, women should not forget to reach out for help. No one alone is perfect, but by building strong and sincere relationships with their resources, networks and mentors, women can invest in that network for assistance before asking for favors. Lastly, women can move upward into new roles by selling themselves on their potential, not just past or current experience.
For leaders, promote women based on potential and intervene at critical career points. Also be a mentor, sponsor others to provide opportunities, and serve as role models.
In conclusion, parents, teach your children early that nothing is off limits to any gender.
This article was previously published in the symposium proceedings of the “Empowering Women in the Global Community” symposium in the Oakland Journal, found here [PDF].
Mamatha Chamarthi spoke in the final panel of the symposium titled “Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Women in Business Benefit Dinner” at MeadowBrook Hall.