We are living and working in an exciting time for female professionals aspiring to reach the C-suite. There are more women in the workforce and earning degrees than ever before. Despite these trends, data continues to demonstrate a significant lack of diversity — in terms of both gender and race — in leadership positions across the country.
I joined Golden 1 Credit Union in 2012 as vice president and controller after spending 10 years with one of the big four public accounting firms in Sacramento. As a mother of three young children, I was seeking a position with a strong, community-focused organization in Sacramento that would allow me to pursue my personal and professional ambitions. That means a company that provides a level of flexibility in hours, understands and supports participation in family activities like doctors’ appointments and school events, and values time spent out of the office for personal and professional growth opportunities.
I am now a leader at one of the largest companies in the Capital Region, serving more than 1 million members. I am proud to have spent nearly seven years at an organization that values diversity and creates pathways for all employees to reach their career goals. At Golden 1, women hold four of the 12 most important executive-level positions and make up nearly one-third of our management leadership team, which is well ahead of the national average of 17 percent female senior-level managers in the financial industry.
There’s a growing body of research that shows increased diversity in leadership positions yields better results. We know this. But what we may struggle with is how to most effectively lift up women in the workplace so that they can achieve positions of leadership. Here are some of the ways you can work in any organization to encourage greater diversity in the C-suite.
Provide mentorship opportunities. Having a great mentor can be a career game changer. Golden 1 has created a natural environment to make sure everyone is challenged, mentored, trained and knows their subject matter so they can develop deeper expertise. Golden 1 makes it a priority to provide entry-level employees and emerging leaders with an opportunity to meet with higher-ups in various departments and even to job shadow, to expose them to all the opportunities available within our company.
Encourage and empower all types of emerging leaders to get involved. Young professionals and emerging leaders need coaching and encouragement to speak up and think creatively. We, as leaders, can help prepare them by providing opportunities to attend key meetings. For example, I bring employees I am developing into a meeting first as an observer, letting them take in the overall dynamic of the meeting and the types of conversations held. As that person’s strengths, knowledge and confidence grow, he or she will earn more opportunities to participate in the meetings, eventually presenting or leading aspects of the conversation.
Be a leader who commits to action. As female leaders, we must commit to sharing our own stories, advocating for gender parity in our organizations, and serving as mentors to youth and other female professionals. The more we can share our own stories of “how she does it,” the less intimidating and more illuminated the path will become for women across all industries. Our president and CEO, Donna Bland, intentionally reaches out to me frequently and acts as an informal mentor to me, making sure I am able to balance both my responsibilities as a mother with a very demanding workload. She offers me advice and shows genuine interest in my career progression.
Embrace working parents and workplace flexibility. It takes a network of supportive colleagues and a good employer to help working families thrive. Leaders have an opportunity and obligation to help their organizations evolve beyond traditional work models that discourage or prevent working parents from advancing to leadership positions. Flexible schedules, family leave policies and flexible time-off programs all create an environment where working parents can grow professionally without sacrificing the well-being of their families. Companies offering these benefits have a better chance to achieve diversity in their leadership teams.
Paving the way for future executives and building a diverse leadership team isn’t about empty corporate initiatives designed to simply “check the box.” Encouraging diversity also happens in the small moments, when you support your colleagues, help them build confidence, share your own story and connect with people facing similar challenges.
I’m grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded. They enable me to help train future leaders. I’d like to share something I learned from Donna — leadership is not a position or title, it is an action or example. By fostering and encouraging your employees to reach their full potential, your business will grow, employee retention will increase and more potential leaders will emerge.