Management · March 11, 2021

How to Empower Women Into Leadership Positions at Your Business

Women continue to take on increasingly prominent roles in the business world. Early into 2021, there are more female CEOs among Fortune 500 companies than ever before. This increase is no accident. It's the result of at least 10 years of targeted development and exposure of these women to career-boosting roles and opportunities.

There's still work to be done at companies of all sizes to ensure this trend continues moving in the right direction. Smaller businesses wondering how to empower women within their ranks can take proactive steps to ensure they're developing talented team members and boosting diversity within their leadership teams.

Benefits of a diverse leadership team

Numerous research studies show that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, and companies with greater diversity outperform their competitors. Businesses that champion diversity and inclusion at the leadership level can better weather crises and change, likely due to the broad and sometimes disparate options presented and worked through by such a team.

Retention of high-performing female team members also tends to be greater at companies with more women in leadership roles. These leaders serve as role models and evidence that growth and promotion opportunities are available to women rising through the ranks.

To achieve these superior business outcomes, a sense of belonging is critical. If companies invite women to the table but ignore, block or otherwise marginalize their contributions, the benefits will be minimal. Full participation and integration drive the impact.

Assessment of team diversity

Assessing the diversity of your leadership team is generally straightforward: Simply look around. How many of your executive or management team members are women or come from a minority background? If the answer is one or less, you have room for improvement. Other types of diversity, such as sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin, may not be readily apparent. Although it's typically not appropriate to ask employees about these matters directly, as you build a more inclusive culture, those with other differences will eventually feel more comfortable letting this be known.

Consider your team's typical decision-making and your current strategy. If you're doing what you've done for years or simply mirroring your competitors, you likely need to bring more diverse perspectives into your decision-making ranks.

What you can do to support women

Regarding how to empower women and increase the number of women in your leadership ranks, think broadly. Promoting from within builds loyalty, but you may need to bring on external hires to fill new positions or replace skilled roles. Remember: Your leadership group includes your board and team of advisors. You can expand the number of women on your board or increase the diversity of your advisory team. Specifically, if you're underserved by your CPA, attorney, banker or fractional CFO, use your existing network or contact professional women's organizations to choose a woman or female-led firm for these roles.

Internally, because many women begin their careers in support roles, advancement options could be limited within traditional pathways. Therefore, instead of focusing solely on standard promotions, consider broadening the experiential base for high-performing women in support roles and moving them into lateral positions to expand this breadth. In a CFO example, you could move a female senior accountant you're eyeing for an eventual CFO role into a purchasing, operational management role with profit and loss responsibility.

Another way to foster female leadership is to ask them to participate in special projects that arise. This could range from opening a new location to developing a new product or service line. You can also encourage board or committee participation in professional organizations and nonprofits. By exposing promising women to these strategic or operational endeavors, you help them develop a new set of skills and observe them in more varied scenarios.

There are numerous practical ways to support the women in your organization when developing their leadership skills and increasing visibility to their growing skill set so they can shine. If you're truly committed to reaping the benefits of a diverse leadership team, these actions will eventually lead to a pronounced increase in women at all management levels at your company.


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