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Women in Leadership: Supporting the Paths Less Traveled

Posted on August 9th, 2019

Women who seek leadership positions, in businesses large and small, face different obstacles than their male counterparts. In 2019, 18% of senior leadership positions in large organizations are occupied by women, according to IBM’s Women, Leadership, and the Priority Paradox, while roughly 40% of small businesses are women-owned. IBM also found that “women won’t achieve leadership parity with men until 2073 without employer intervention.” One thing is for sure; today’s female leaders aren’t waiting around for that intervention to take place.

Cigna’s recent Women in Leadership study results contain several interesting insights from women in leadership roles for women who are at an earlier stage in their careers. Their hard-won experience and advice can be a stepping stone for an emerging generation of business leaders. How can female entrepreneurs and small business owners leverage these insights during their career journeys?

Blazing Unconventional Trails

The primary finding revealed by Cigna’s study is that the majority of women in leadership positions arrived there by taking unconventional paths. “Modern career journeys no longer follow one simple approach for progression,” the study found. “Many female leaders have made nontraditional, sometimes surprising choices in their career – for professional or personal reasons – and it paid off.”

Despite their frustration that the “typical” paths toward leadership at work continue to reward men over their female peers, these women found success by blazing their own trails. Whether starting their own businesses, working outside of their expected skill sets, or changing industries entirely, women who choose to embrace a non-linear career path often find themselves enjoying forward momentum.

Additionally, a broad range of experience is becoming more and more valuable to women as their careers advance, evidenced by the 80% of millennial workers who “say work experience across industries is important to career progression.” In our fast-paced, technology-driven economy, a wide range of experiences prepares leaders to take on new challenges.

Knowing Your Strengths

The Harvard Business Review notes that “men tend to perform better when the focus is on managing tasks, while women tend to perform better when the focus is on managing people, which includes attending to people’s attitudes, values, and motivation.” These differences, which are primarily the result of cultural constructs rather than biological factors, should empower women with strengths in these areas to pursue leadership positions. It’s also predicted that, as AI and technology take an ever-growing role in task management, people skills will become increasingly important for business leaders, giving women a valuable opportunity to advance in these areas.

Of the women who participated in Cigna’s study, 73% agreed that knowing their strengths (and being vocal about them) was a vital component of their career success. Whether those strengths are in people management, coding, data analysis, or trend-spotting, understanding their value and speaking up about their contributions are key drivers on the path to leadership.

Embracing Mentorship & Sponsorship

One of the most powerful investments that women in leadership are making is a focus on mentoring and sponsoring a younger generation of leaders. “Successful women are often mentored by other successful women,” Cigna found. “Female business leaders recognize this in their career journeys and pay it forward to other women in their own unique journeys.” Mentorship can help potential leaders identify and overcome common obstacles, develop confidence, and recognize opportunities for growth.

As HRDive notes, there is an important distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. “Mentors provide an important venue for women to discuss their challenges and develop solutions; sponsors advocate for their protege’s promotion.” For women in particular, sponsorship is an important way to level the playing field when leadership positions are on the table. As always, women must help each other on our paths to professional and personal success.

As a woman-owned business, e2E, LLC celebrates and supports female leaders, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Whether you’re seeking advice on securing investment, managing capital, or other strategies to start or grow your business, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us today to learn more.


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