Women Are Advancing To Fortune 500 CEO’s: 5 Proven Ways To Join Them

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A record 41 female CEOs are slated to be running Fortune 500 companies, reports the November 7, 2020 Wall Street Journal. 

While this is still a low number, it partly reflects corporations’ willingness to build a bench of senior female talent, particularly in the retail industry. That makes sense to me because for years, research has shown women in households make those buying decisions. Who would  better create winning retail strategies than women leaders?

Female retail CEOs include Michelle Gass, Kohl’s Corporation ; Lauren Hobert, Dick’s Sporting Goods; Heyward Donigan, Rite Aid; and CVS Health, Karen Lynch. 

Jane Stevenson, who leads executive recruiting for Korn Ferry’s global CEO-succession practice sees the technological and competitive challenges over the last decade opening the door for leaders with chief merchandising experience. “It’s forced boards to think outside the box and look at where opportunity is being created, and that has an opportunity for women to shine.”

I’m a big Best Buy fan. The company turned itself around in the 90’s when Corie Barry was Chief Finance Officer. She was promoted to CEO last year. 

But building a pipeline of female talent has been decades in the making. Promoting them into the C-Suite roles that put them in contention for chief executive is now being harvested. Pointing to Jane Fraser at Citi-Group and Linda Rendle at Clorox Company, Stevenson remarked, “You have to plant and cultivate the seeds to get the crop.”  

Whether women’s gains will continue at this positive pace is unclear. Yet some see a bright future. Bonnie Gwin, co-managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles global CEO and board practice says that after the pandemic’s initial hits, a longer-term view of succession planning is at hand. To thrive, “Many companies are realizing they need to diversity at every level,” says Ms. Gwin, who predicts more women and people of color will see doors opening into major-companies C-Suites in 2021.

Here’s some takeaways to help you thrive and climb These tips come from my book, Women Make Great Leaders:

1.     Learn to say “No.” Having “White Space” on your calendar is essential for thinking and strategizing.

Deliver the “No” with grace and authority. Don’t sabotage your “No” with excessive excuses. Calmly, firmly and with kindness say “No.” Suggest alternatives. 

2.     Use Storytelling. When you land an interview, use storytelling to describe your skills and work style. Inject these stories with self-effacing humor and you’ve increased your likeability factor.

3.     Know When To Leave. Susan Ivey, former President CEO of RJ Reynolds, says when you realize you are in a workplace where you can’t advance, quit. It is unrealistic to think you can change the culture single-handedly. 

4.     Be Truthful About Your Credentials. Recruiters have told me again and again, education is where folks fib the most. Don’t do it. Instead, turn your education in to a great story!

5.     Always Trust your Gut. If you instincts say you can’t trust these people, don’t sign up.

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