A couple of years ago I was attending the annual meeting of a venture fund when the new CEO of one of the fund’s portfolio companies was introduced. I knew that the founder of that company was leaving, but I was shocked when the new CEO stepped on stage and he was a man. I suppose a male CEO is not all that shocking, after all only 5% of CEOs are women, except the company was a women’s healthcare platform for tracking your fertility.
I turned to one of the partners and said, “You couldn’t find a woman for that role?”
His reply was, “We tried!”
Of course, I couldn’t let the, “We tried” comment go, and I dug deeper with that partner as to the issues. In fact, they did try to find a woman for that role, however, they were ultimately unsuccessful. What they did, is what many small and mid-size companies do, which is to go into their network to find a qualified candidate. With the high costs of C-level searches out of reach for companies, it is up to the investors, the company executives, and the board members to do the search on their own. Even if the company can pay for a recruiter, it is only after the team has exhausted their own search.
Going into your network presents several problems. As one recruiter I spoke to said, “Everyone thinks they have a great network.” We all connect with people who are most familiar to us, so it is logical that if you analyze your network, you’d find that the bulk of your network is similar to you. Most venture capitalists are men, less than 20% of public board members are women and 57% of the people on LinkedIn are men. If these people are going “into their network,” is it any surprise that the candidates bubbling to the top end up being men?
As I began to dig deeper into this issue, I found a lot of compelling studies that show some of the differences between men and women in business. First and foremost, it became clear it wasn’t just a feeling I had that businesses would be more successful with a woman at the helm, but there is data backing that up. A recent study found that women-run businesses generated higher revenues and created more jobs than equivalent male-run companies. And contrary to stereotypes, women have a higher appetite for growth, all making for a more successful business. Economic benefits aside, my favorite statistic is that those female CEOs have happier employees. Imagine a world with more happy workers–it could be transformative.
One more hurdle women face in ascending into leadership positions is highlighted in another study illuminating how male job candidates are largely judged by their potential, while females tend to be evaluated based on their past performance. With that criteria, if a woman is not already a CEO, being hired into a CEO role is not likely to happen. In fact, most female CEOs are in that role because they started their own company, not because they ascended to that level within a company.
Yet another study that indicates women are much less likely than men to apply for a job where they do not meet the vast majority of the requirements. There is some controversy on the why: Is it a lack of confidence in women? Are women not aware of how the hiring process works? Have they been passed over so many times they simply don’t want to spend their time applying unless they can tick every box? The fact remains that women are not applying to jobs when they don’t think they meet all the qualifications and are therefore not advancing as quickly.
Even looking at leadership from the base desire of wanting to make the most money possible, it is logical that more women should be hired to lead companies. But how do we find CEO-ready women when our networks are biased and women are being overlooked?
When I started formulating the idea of CEOX, I distilled it down to the most basic level: we know that these women are out there so let’s make them easy to find. We also know that one of the most meaningful endorsements anyone can get is from a successful leader. Hence, CEOX is an easily accessible list of CEO-ready women supported and recommended by successful leaders.
To date, we have placed six CEOs and numerous board and C-Suite executives. We have also helped female founders raise $2M in the last year. We're bringing together executive women, startup founders, and investors to create a dynamic, gender-balanced ecosystem that benefits us all.