I remember when I first read years ago one of the most embarrassing statistics: there were actually more Fortune 500 CEOs with the first name John than there were Fortune 500 women CEOs! My mission for the past decade has been us get – for starts – to 50 Fortune 500 women CEOs. We are now at 41, and I believe we are getting ready to double that number soon. So now, more than ever, it is essential to share wisdom from women leaders on becoming a CEO.
On May 26, 2021 I moderated, with my co-host Becky Shambaugh, the Women Business Collaborative CEO Roundtable. The participants were women leaders in healthcare, financial services, military and entrepreneurship. Because of the wisdom of the CEOs and popularity of this session, I then reached out and asked these women leaders about lessons learned, advice to become CEO and how men can help. These insights below can be a true road map to help more women become CEOs.
– Lucinda (“Cindy”) Baier, President and CEO, Brookdale Senior Living, a $3.5 billion company with 700 senior living communities
– Catherine Keating, CEO, BNY Mellon Wealth Management and Investor Solutions divisions.
– Phyllis Newhouse retired military senior officer and current serial entrepreneur and investor, including CEO and Co-Founder of Athena Technology Acquisition Corp., Founder and CEO of Xtreme Solutions, Inc., and Founder of ShoulderUp
What are the most important lessons I learned about success in business?
Phyllis Newhouse: “Know the value you bring to the table and to the team. You must encourage others to play their value cards as well. I’ve learned that most successful teams are led by folks who leverage the value that everyone brings.”
Catherine Keating: “The two most important business lessons I have learned: 1. Find work that inspires you. In my business, Wealth Management, we help families to have stronger financial futures. We see the impact that has on their lives and that inspires us every day. 2. Nurture your inner child throughout your career. Children are incredibly curious and agile – they are always asking “why” and mastering new skills. Today, more than ever, we see how quickly information is shared, habits are changed, products are launched, and industries are transformed. We need to nurture curiosity and agility at every stage of our careers.“
Cindy Baier: “It’s necessary to be clear on your priorities and to know WHY you do what you do. These are both really important and this clarity allows you to rally people around the same goals and priorities. At Brookdale Senior Living, this is easy because everyone is focused on our mission of enriching the lives of those we serve. The health and wellbeing of our residents and associates is our North Star.”
What advice do I have to women in 2021 to drive business success and potentially become CEO?
Keating: “CEOs serve many constituents: customers, employees, shareholders, regulators and communities. I advise aspiring CEOs to be greedy in seeking out mentors. You can find the skills you need in many places – in the people you work for and the people who work for you; among your customers; in industry forums; in nonprofit and community organizations; and in personal networks. I have had countless mentors in my career and most of them don’t even know I view them as mentors. If you look for leadership, you can find it in many places.”
Baier: “Focus on what matters most and work harder than anyone else. If you’re passionate about what you do, working harder is actually easier! Be a problem solver and take on stretch assignments to grow. Others will see what you’re really capable of. Build a solid network of people whose skill sets complement yours. This will help in areas where you are not as strong. And always remember that it’s really all about the team and the company, not about you. You’ve got to be focused on something bigger than yourself in order to be a great leader. “
Newhouse: “The first question you must be able to answer is your reason why. That reason will determine your level of success. I would encourage you to find CEOs to connect with in your own industry, but also outside your industry. Find out what keeps them up at night and ask questions about their personal and professional growth.”
What can men do to help more women become CEOs?
Baier: “It’s important for men to be sponsors as well as mentors. These are not the same thing. Sponsors actively support you, talk up your abilities with others, and help you gain those stretch assignments that lead to promotions. Men who want to help women become CEOs can also do so by sitting down and discussing business issues with them on a regular basis. And when it comes to hiring, it’s important to interview a diverse slate of candidates. Of course, the best candidate should be hired, but having a diverse slate provides women with the opportunity to compete.”
Newhouse: “I believe that if men would support women, then we really would see change. But we need to change the language, and the notion, from “help” to “support.” When you learn to support versus help, change happens. Being a true advocate is about the level of support you give.”
Keating: “Use data and build processes that support women’s careers. Data tells us that women may not get the same candid feedback that men receive and may receive crucial early career promotions later than men. Armed with that data, we can build robust processes for formal and informal feedback. Careers are made in micro-moments – moments when we have honest conversations about strengths and opportunities. When we build processes that support more of those moments, we will see more women promoted.”
… In summary, I hope these insights will inspire more women to become CEO. And getting more women CEOs is not just the right thing to do, it will fuel significant economic growth by having the right people in the right place.