Report: Women CEOs Work Harder and Longer to Get to the Top

By: Melissa Campanelli

Women CEOs in all industries — including retail — worked harder and longer than their male counterparts to get to the top, according to a study of current and recent women CEOs conducted by Korn Ferry. The study found women CEOs were four years older, on average, than their male counterparts, and worked in a slightly higher number of roles, functions, companies and industries before getting the top job.

The research, which took place from May 2017 through August 2017 and included 57 women CEOs, was supported by a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation as part of its 100×25 initiative. The initiative aims to have in place at least 100 Fortune 500 women CEOs by 2025, an effort to promote gender equity in corporate environments.

Other key findings from the Korn Ferry study include the following:

  • Women were driven by both a sense of purpose and achieving business results. More than two-thirds of the women interviewed said they were motivated by a sense of purpose and the belief that their company could have a positive impact on the communities, employees and the world around them.
  • Differentiating traits sustained the women’s success in the journey to becoming CEO. Defining traits and competencies that emerged in the research included courage, risk taking, resilience, agility and managing ambiguity.
  • Women were more likely to use the power of teams. Scoring significantly higher than the benchmark group on humility — indicative of a consistent lack of self-promotion, an expressed appreciation for others, and a tendency to share the credit — women CEOs were more likely to leverage the talents of others to achieve desired results.
  • Women didn’t set their sights on becoming CEO. Two-thirds of the women said they never realized they could become CEO until a boss or mentor encouraged them, and instead focused on hitting business targets and seeking new challenges rather than on their personal career advancement.
  • The women shared STEM and financial backgrounds, which served as springboards for their careers. Early in their careers, nearly 60 percent of the women had demonstrable expertise in either STEM (40 percent) or business/finance/economics (19 percent), all fields where they could prove themselves with precise measurement.

“These findings are particularly important for women in retail,” said Denise Kramp, North America Retail Sector Leader and Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry. “Retail executives are oftentimes focused solely on a functional role and need senior leaders who can help identify females with high potential and prepare them for more senior roles. As a retail community, we need to take the responsibility to mentor these women and guide them through the skills they need to advance their careers and ultimately become CEOs.”

To learn more about the study, listen to the first installment of a six-part podcast series, Women CEOs Speak, with Evelyn Orr, Chief Operating Officer at Korn Ferry, and Jane Stevenson, Global Leader for CEO Succession at Korn Ferry. In the podcast, the two executives dissect what they learned from conducting the research.

Continuing Research

The other episodes of the Women CEOs Speak six-part podcast series include the following:

Part 2: What Organizations Can Do: This episode reveals how companies and institutions can identify and nurture top female leadership candidates.

Part 3: What Women Can Do: This episode lays out a road map for women at any level who aspire to the C-suite, including what strategies to follow, what opportunities to seek out, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Part 4: Dealing With Sexism in the Workplace: This episode deals with how sexism shows up in the workplace, and offers strategies to overcome it.

Part 5: Mentors and Sponsors: This episode highlights the roles, both big and small, that other people have played to promote the careers of the nation’s top female executives.

Part 6: Formative Experiences: This episode catalogs the events and moments that shaped the nation’s top female executives.

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