I Made It My Mission To Get More Women In The C-SuiteFeatured

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.

I love this! Let me know if I can help in any way.
I love this!
This is amazing! I am facing this challenge and it is hard. Even on YC co-founder matching it showed me only 6 potential female founders out of 65 total. Most of them were not technical and I am looking for a CTO. And YC is the undoubtedly the leader in early stage.
I am not surprised. Without a focused effort to identify these women, it will likely not change.
I was really disappointed with YC. I applied with my female CTO, and we didnโ€™t get in but a similar company in my space with less traction and an all male team did. Not that there werenโ€™t other factors at play, but looking at the stats on their cohorts, they are one of the worst offenders for accepting women led startups. We went with TechStars, and they have strong diversity initiatives.
Interesting, thanks for sharing. I find it in general very hard to see where people really care about inclusivity and where it's a PR stunt
@malshina if I can be of help feel free to pick my brain
This is SO amazing! ๐Ÿ’“ Thanks for featuring this story @ElphaStaff ๐Ÿค
Hi Luann! Great post!Question: How do you put yourself on a career trajectory to become a CEO, outside of starting your own company?I've never even thought about being HIRED to be a CEO. At most, I've thought about working to get to a Director level. So what does that career trajectory, experiences, skills, etc. - look like for someone who's going for the peak of the mountain?
You aren't the only one that thinks it is highly unlikely. Most women are CEOs because they started their own companies, while most men who are CEOs were able to work their way up through the traditional corporate structure. CEOX is one way that women who aren't founders can become CEOs. Growing startups are great places to place highly qualified women. Start thinking CEO now and you will get there faster!
Hi @jikajika I also never thought about how you get HIRED to be a CEO until I fell into executive recruiting out of college! Long story short is that companies needing a change in that top exec role will analyze what skill set they are missing as a company (maybe the company has been stumbling due to a lack in market awareness, so someone with a more CMO/CRO background is great; maybe the company is still in early stages and needs a fantastic salesperson to secure funding and sell the dream; maybe they need a great technologist) and look for C-level folks who have this background. Sometimes these are repeat CEOs, but often it can be a CMO or CRO or CPO, etc.
This is so fascinating! Now I wonder, what kind of skillset, accomplishments, and years of experience does a person need to have to be considered for such a position?And a repeat CEO?! Whaaaaaaaa?! So they get whatever job they need to get done and then move onto the next company?Sorry for my ignorance (and excitement), but I REALLY NEVER thought about trying to get HIRED as a CEO. My last job, I was the Director of the Marketing Dept. It may of been a startup, but that was my title. And it freaked me the F*** OUT! I did the job, and I did it well! But the title...There's something about a C-Suite or Senior Level Title that holds a lot of weight to me, though it's all imaginary.Have you ever talked someone into applying for a C-Suite position who didn't believe in herself as much as you did? #LikeABoss
Thanks for featuring this topic! I'm currently applying for VP job openings and in 1 interview they mentioned that the job could be CMO as well and that just brought my imposter syndrome straight to the front. I was having all those thoughts of "I'm not ready for this, there must be so many things I don't know, etc" but the job description was fitting my experience... So here is a question for you: do you also have tips on how to train women to prepare & apply for c-suite / senior executive level, since we don't have many role models nor access to discussions about those levels and what's happening there? I'm sincerely interested in hearing your thoughts about this :)
@laetitiadursel I hear from women a lot about this, typically who think that they can be COO, but not CEO. I set them straight! I have written about these topics before: and Would love your thoughts!
I finally got to reading it, thank you for sharing this! It's true, we underestimate how much our self confidence has been eroded through years of trying to fit in a more masculine work environment and knowing that, I'm going to be more gentle with myself :) Also, if you offer coaching to grow into the c-suite, I might be interested:)
I don't do coaching, but I have several I can refer you to if you are interested. Feel free to connect:
Yes, I'm interested:) just connected with you!
This is amazing! Once you have built this group big enough I would be interested in hearing what they would have done differently if they started their career all over again to help them get to where they are today. Any tidbits of insights I would be interested in hearing.
One of the things I hear most often from women who become CEOs is that they wish they had been thinking about becoming CEO much, much earlier in their career. Make it a focus and you will get there sooner.
Hi there - I'm at Director level right now (just started in May) in tech, reporting directly to the CTO. I'm looking at going the CTO or CEO route in approx. 10 years, and I guess I wanted to know what kind of experience I should be building there. For example, is getting an MBA worth it? Should I be trying to get on boards? Basically what kind of steps can I take from where I am now to get to there?
I think the #1 thing you can do is get a sponsor who can help to propel you forward in your career. Talk to your CTO and see if s/he is willing to help move you up. Networking is also key. MBA--it is not a requirement, but if you aren't getting it, make sure to ask for and take on projects that require cross-functional expertise.
It's helpful to understand that men who vying for C-suite level roles are evaluated based on potential while women are evaluated based on past performance. Seems a like a combination of both would be more effective predictor of potential for success.
Great research, very insightful
@luann this is wonderful and question Iโ€™ve asked in the past. What are the skills or tools that youโ€™ve documented in being the most useful to prepare to be a C-level? ๐Ÿ“
Women tend to score highly on "curiosity", which I think is a transformative leadership skill. It means they are open and curious to new ideas and don't come into a situation thinking they know all the answers, which allows for a more innovative culture where employees feel valued for their contributions.
Curiosity and empathy are definitely important. Have you noticed any hard/ technical skills such as R&D, P&L, coding, data analytics Iโ€™m looking for resources and ideas to help build a skill gap assessment for my career
It really varies by role and what they are looking for. Deep technical skills are always helpful, but also not always necessary.
You are a force @luann and your work is SO needed.
Thanks, Alicia! โค๏ธ
Thanks for doing this, much needed! I so agree that female CEOs have happier employees. The reason I started focusing on helping female founders with tech because I got frustrated with the lack of EQ in engineering space, even though it's the most crucial skill - and came to the realization that it's easier to teach tech to non-tech women than emotional intelligence to men :)