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  • Writer's pictureMariane Bekker

Driving Change for Women in the C-Suite

Updated: Jun 20, 2023



I’m thrilled to share some inspiring insights on the progress and challenges faced by women CEOs in today’s business landscape. The numbers are finally shifting in our favor. CEO departures are increasing, and a groundbreaking 31% of incoming CEOs are women. It’s a milestone moment as women now lead more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies, breaking free from the single-digit numbers that held us back for years. While we celebrate this progress, there are crucial considerations we must address to create a level playing field.


One notable challenge emerges when women step into CEO roles previously held by long-tenured, typically White male leaders. Research from S&P Global Market Intelligence highlights that women executives often outperform their male counterparts but face higher standards and biases ingrained in existing systems. The mere presence of women at the helm doesn’t automatically dismantle structures that perpetuate the status quo.


To counteract this inherent bias, organizations must go beyond representation and operationalize their values into equitable structures. Natania Malin Gazek, a DEI consultant, emphasizes that female representation is a step forward, but it’s crucial to transform the systems that support women leaders within the company. It’s about more than just numbers; it’s about creating an environment that fosters their success.


Unfortunately, newly-appointed women CEOs often face the challenge of inheriting systems that aren’t conducive to their achievements, particularly during critical company phases. This places them on the “glass cliff” where their tenure is shorter, and they’re 45% more likely to be fired compared to male counterparts. We need to address this disparity and ensure a fair playing field for women CEOs to thrive.


Moreover, a study in the Journal of Financial Stability reveals that long-tenured CEOs can negatively impact their successors’ performance. Incoming CEOs often inherit significant challenges that require extensive clean-up and delay the realization of growth outcomes. Recognizing these dynamics is crucial as we celebrate women’s appointments to CEO positions.


As we work towards gender and racial inclusivity, organizations must evaluate their commitment to diversity and inclusion (DEI) values. It’s not just about making symbolic and performative gestures but about making substantive, long-term investments. By aligning systems and policies with the vision of new leaders, organizations can facilitate a culture shift. This includes embedding new cultural values into hiring, promotions, pay raises, and evaluations.


To truly understand the impact of existing policies on marginalized groups within the organization, it’s essential to gather data and listen. Anonymous employee surveys conducted by the HR department can provide valuable insights. It’s then crucial for the incoming CEO to take action based on this feedback, creating a workplace that provides greater flexibility, robust caretaking benefits, and opportunities for silent leaders to shine.


As we witness more women ascending to the C-Suite, the focus on how DEI values are promoted and executed becomes paramount. Leaders on the board and in the C-Suite must evaluate their ability to execute these values and translate them into actionable behaviors. This includes formalizing them in performance evaluations for both the CEO and employees.

We must remember that change takes time. It’s not just about changing the climate of a company but transforming its culture. Supportive systems and entrenched support within the organization are crucial for women CEOs to fully flourish and bring their unique talents and gifts to leadership roles.

Let’s continue supporting and celebrating women founders in their journey to the top. Together, we can drive meaningful change and create a business landscape that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.


 

Mariane Bekker is a passionate advocate for women in tech, an angel investor, and the founder & CEO of Upward, a premier boutique recruitment agency connecting companies with exceptional diverse tech talent. With over a decade of experience building diverse engineering teams at leading startups, she’s navigated the intricacies of the startup landscape and understands the unique needs and aspirations of founders. Follow her LinkedIn for insights, industry trends, and valuable resources about Startups, Tech, and Diversity.


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Mariane Bekker is a passionate advocate for women in tech, an angel investor, and the founder & CEO of Upward, a premier boutique recruitment agency connecting companies with exceptional diverse tech talent. With over a decade of experience building diverse engineering teams at leading startups, she’s navigated the intricacies of the startup landscape and understands the unique needs and aspirations of founders. Follow her LinkedIn and Twitter for insights, industry trends, and valuable resources about Startups, Tech, and Diversity.

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