The C-level: tips for women in business on how to get there

Written by Staff Writer

Mar 10, 2021

By Vanessa Rogers, Founder of Textbox Conceptual


You’re rising up rapidly through the ranks of your industry and can see an opening into its gleaming boardrooms. Read on for three take-home messages that will see you ducking the chokepoints and embracing the benefits of walking into that shiny C-Suite.

Although women are hired and promoted in the entry-to-middle ranks of business at rates that equate to those of men, when they start to rise into senior management – with its extreme time and energy demands – they are seen to leave their positions as often as four times more often than their male counterparts.

The reasons, according to the experts at RetailWire, include “a sense of isolation”, “being dismissed, ignored or not taken seriously”, and the inevitable “chokepoint” of not being offered sufficient flexibility in their schedules to meet family, home and parenting obligations.

Support and expectations

So the first take-home message for women wanting to get into the C-Suite and stay there, is to ensure that they take two essentials into the interview room: the need to be paired with another ambitious woman, for support on the onwards journey; and the need for realistic expectations when it comes to travel and hours, in order for them to contribute the important skills and strategic innovation for which they are being hired, without making undue sacrifices when it comes to their home circumstances.

In the fairer sex’s favour – as has been revealed in numerous studies, including one by the Peterson Institute for International Economics – is that companies with more women in the C-suite tend to have a more diverse and equitable workforce, achieve better business results and see increased profitability. Because the gender gap remains, forward-thinking countries have put a range of stipulations in place to ensure that a certain percentage of women appear on boards (e.g. at least 30 percent of staff, in Germany) and that gender equality is actively promoted in the workplace (e.g. in Sweden).

Global Strategy Group’s head of comms and public affairs, Tanya Meck, writes for that women should not have to work twice as hard as men and fight for recognition, in the face of discrimination and unequal pay – when the characteristics most closely associated with female leadership are the very ones, she believes, that allow a company to operate in an increasingly socially responsible and staff-valuing manner.


Social responsibility and appreciation

The second take-home message then, for women wanting to get into the C-Suite and stay there, is to emphasise the management style they prefer and the importance of this style in retaining staff – particularly the millennials who make up such a large percentage of the workforce these days.

“Cite in your interview the results of studies that reveal how millennials expect ‘detailed, regular feedback and praise for a job well done’,” enthuses director at BossJansen Executive Search, Thuli Nkosi, “and that to build their loyalty, managers need to emphasise ‘the company’s participation in their causes and commitments’. The typically female management attributes of collaboration, inclusiveness, team-building, credit-sharing and conflict resolution are likely to best resonate with this group of young and upcoming executives, and to encourage them to feel valued and therefore not to unnecessarily job hop,” she reveals.

Indeed, closing the gender-parity gap in the global workforce very much revolves around corporate leaders making their businesses more attractive to female talent – an issue that is tackled quite extensively in the recent PwC research paper “Winning the fight for female talent”.

It certainly helps for the female “job mover” (defined in the paper as “an experienced professional who has recently changed or is about to change employers”) or the female “job hunter” (“an experienced professional currently active in the jobs market”) to have an experienced executive search partner in their corner.

The experienced female executive would not wish to make a move from one company to another just for the salary increase on offer, only to find that the gender parity issue was going to prove a daily, ongoing battle. And in this regard, reveals Nkosi, it pays for both recruiters and job seekers to have a read of the PwC research so that collectively they can prepare a batch of astute questions that will prevent a candidate from making a move they may come to regret.

Relevant questions, Nkosi suggests, include: “How are you adjusting your talent-acquisition strategies to be more inclusive of female talent?”; and, “How will you stay focused on inclusivity amid today’s blizzard of change in the employment environment and workforce?”

Career progression and work-life balance

An executive search partner should aim to help candidates throughout the four stages of the recruitment process, from putting forward talented female and other minority candidates; to role description and selection for interview; the interview itself; and, finally, the eventual offer. And both recruiters and job seekers should note that there are three main factors that make an organisation an attractive employer.

So, the third take-home message for women wanting to get into the C-Suite and stay there, advises Nkosi, is to ensure that they make a job move for all the right reasons:

1) opportunities for career progression

2) competitive wages and other financial benefits

3) flexible work arrangements and a culture of work-life balance.


“A significant role of the executive search partner is to help their senior female executives to push back as regards any of the potential employer’s weak areas,” she enthuses.

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