Increasing Women in Leadership Roles

Stop focusing on the numbers. Instead, critically evaluate and modify your recruitment and promotion strategies for promising female leaders.

We’ve seen significant strides in overall workplace gender equality. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is less significant progress in diversifying senior-level positions in recent years. There is a disconnect between giving women a seat at the table and allowing them to actually lead the discussion. This does not bode well for the bottom line either. According to a Grant Thornton study, the United States, India, and England are losing out on $665 billion in profits by not having women executives.

My nonprofit, 1,000 Dreams Fund, works closely with young women who are at the early stages of pursuing their professional goals. They are budding leaders with much to offer the corporate world, but even once they get that famous foot in the door, the odds of reaching executive status are still stacked against them. With a more comprehensive approach to recruiting, hiring, and promoting, companies can better develop gifted female employees into those prominent leaders of tomorrow.

Start by Recruiting Leaders…From Diverse Places

When recruiting at the college level, many companies fall into a routine of only showing up at certain universities. As a result, you’ll receive identical-looking resumes from identical-looking people. That’s not to say those applicants are subpar, but you’re inadvertently shutting out uniquely qualified people who could be exactly the employees your company needs.

Add women’s colleges to your list. Add historically black schools. Engage with student organizations that emphasize the advancement of women and minorities. You’ll find young leaders eager to buckle down and work hard—folks who are primed for advancement into workplace leadership roles. If you’re recruiting above the college level, get in touch with professional networking and advocacy groups to cover all your bases. There are groups for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT individuals—all people ready and willing to put their leadership prowess to use.

Consider Beyond What’s on Paper

Your goal is always to choose the best candidate. A stellar resume is invaluable, and the responsibility of selecting only the most promising applicants is not to be taken lightly. Millennials, in particular, have become masters of resume creation. They know how to play up their assets on paper, highlighting the accolades and skills they’ve racked up from years of community and corporate involvement. As a result, you may find yourself weighing similarly spectacular resumes against each other, unsure of which one should take precedence.

Allow yourself to give weight to diversity. If a candidate is a woman, particularly a woman of color, take that under consideration. It is not unfair to award “merit points” to an applicant who comes from a different background and perhaps can offer a new perspective. A person of a cultural or educational upbringing that’s notably different from that of your typical candidates may have something unique to bring to the table. At the very least, recognize that women and minorities often are overlooked, and do your part to more carefully evaluate their potential.

Promoting Is Just as Critical as Hiring

Simply hiring women, especially at the ground level, will not promote growth in female leadership. A 2016 study by and McKinsey & Co. found that workplace gender disparity begins at entry level. Men are 30 percent more likely than their female counterparts to be promoted to management roles, which, in turn, narrows women’s paths toward senior positions. The higher up company ladder, the fewer female faces are in the boardrooms.

As middle-tier openings appear, look to promote your high-performing, high-potential young women from their entry-level roles. From there, support their next steps through internal mentoring programs. Company leaders have a responsibility to take special interest in employees who will someday join their ranks. A common misconception is that women should be mentored by other women. That gender divide is absurd. Male managers should provide meaningful guidance for female employees and even provide extra effort to help them network.

While your numbers may say that the office is a 50/50 split, don’t be misled. They do not represent the gender breakdown of upper-level leadership. It’s highly likely that your company’s executives remain almost exclusively male and white. While things won’t change overnight, start by recruiting talented leaders from a variety of backgrounds and then focus on developing and promoting promising female employees early in their careers. These efforts will pay off in the long run with more women not only leaning in but leading.

Christie Garton is an award-winning social entrepreneur, author, and creator of the 1,000 Dreams Fund (, a social enterprise that empowers young women in the U.S. through scholarships and life-changing advice. Garton is the author of the best-selling college guidebook for women, “U Chic: College Girls’ Real Advice for Your First Year (& Beyond!)” (4th Edition, Sourcebooks, 2015) and co-author of “Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever” (AMACOM 2013). Garton has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and U.S. News & World Report. She holds a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

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