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Mar 13, 2019

Empowering Women To Lead

by Tanya Krochta, SVP & Chief Administrative Officer, ACORD

In January 2019, a record 102 women were seated in the United States House of Representatives. Over a third of those women (35) won their seats for the first time in the 2018 midterm elections. In the US Senate, the percentage of women climbed to 25% after five freshman female senators were elected. Although these numbers show progress and a trend in the direction of equal representation for women within the United States government, true parity remains elusive.

This year may have rung in more female representation in government; however, trends point in the opposite direction when it comes to female CEOs within the private sector. At the start of 2019, the number of female CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies was just 24 – a 25% decrease. Despite women making up 51.5% of all managers, few ever achieve a C-Suite position. Two questions are apparent: How can we encourage women and girls to achieve leadership goals? And once they're in leadership roles, how do we keep them there?

Getting them there, of course, has to begin at a young age. Recently retired Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi was groomed for leadership since childhood by her mother. Growing up, Nooyi was coached with questions such as "What would you do if you were the prime minister?" – inspiring her to believe that she could, and would, lead.

This attitude must continue once girls enter the workforce. In their December 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Katina Sawyer, Ph.D. and Anna Marie Valerio, Ph.D. conducted 75 confidential interviews with leaders in or near the C-suite level at a number of for-profit and non-profit organizations. One of the most compelling insights that came from these interviews was the necessity of company-wide, co-ed sponsorship. Many of the women leaders interviewed cited “male champions” at their organizations, and the career benefits they derived from this relationship. In the near term, the majority of leaders with authority to change workplace culture will still be men – we need to make sure that both male and female leaders recognize the importance of gender inclusiveness as effective talent management, and provide gender-aware mentoring and coaching.

So what can each of us do to help?

Get involved in your own workplace. If you are in a position to mentor or sponsor, offer yourself up. If you are a potential mentee, ask for help. Help to enforce and instill policies that promote women into leadership roles. Actively search for existing formal networks, not only in your company, but throughout your industry and beyond.

For the past two years, we at ACORD have participated in the Women in Insurance Initiative, which focuses on achieving gender parity in our industry. We have done this largely by working within Million Women Mentors, which focuses on helping girls and women to pursue and succeed in STEM careers. Rooted in local programs but joined in a national movement, MWM connects mentors to a network of over 1000 volunteers across 40+ active states and multiple context-specific initiatives. By taking local mentoring actions and linking them to a nationwide and global movement, MWM proves that change comes from efforts on the ground with an overall shared mission and approach.

Progress can be made daily and consistently – it’s the only way.