Advancing Women in Leadership


By Nancy Zentis

As most of you know, advancing women in leadership is a current topic of concern for most boardrooms and senior leadership teams.  After 40 years of trying to break the glass ceiling and increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the figures are just appalling.  Women represent less than 19% of board positions, and their salaries are 78 cents to every dollar a man earns.

Women face many obstacles when trying to advance to leadership positions.  For some, it’s the selection and promotion process.  For others, it may be fitting into a dominant male culture, obtaining critical assignments, or the inability to gain vertical experience.  The lack of role models and mentors, disparity in pay, benefits, and compensation, and fewer opportunities to develop a network of colleagues and supporters can be contributing factors as well.

While many organizations are trying to address these issues, it takes more than building a business case and strategy to advance women in their culture.  Organizations are looking at ways to address their cultural biases and discriminatory actions.

Organizations who are taking action to address these issues are providing women with mentors and giving them opportunities to develop the skills needed to overcome barriers to advancement.

Here are some questions organizations should be asking to help women advance in leadership roles:

  1. How serious is your organization about advancing women and what steps are they taking to change the culture?
  2. What is senior leadership’s role and how committed are they?
  3. How are they addressing inclusion and overcoming biases? What are some examples of success and how is it shared?
  4. What policies are in place and what are the consequences for the unfair treatment of women?
  5. What systems are in place to monitor and measure results?
  6. Are your policies and processes fair, transparent, and flexible?
  7. How do you ensure women have the same opportunities as men to be recruited, hired, promoted, and included in important projects?
  8. What are leading-edge metrics applied to measure results and changes?
  9. Are leadership metrics in place to determine the leader’s ability, interest, and actions to promote and develop women?
  10. What is your organization doing to develop women?
  11. Is there a goal for female advancement?
  12. Is there a plan in place to retain, develop, and engage women?
  13. Are they committed to advancing women to senior leadership positions?
  14. What are the obstacles and barriers and how are you going to overcome them?
  15. How can leaders contribute to organizational efforts to promote women?

Tips for Women to Advance their Career

According to a recent Women in Leadership Conference, a panel of successful women leaders offered the following advice to advance your career.  Here some competencies that will help you be successful.

  1. Build your emotional intelligence by self-assessing and self-managing what we say, feel, and think before acting. Monitor your impulse behavior and recognize your triggers and the impact on others.
  2. Remain calm in difficult situations and assess the situation before reacting. Approach others calmly and positively.
  3. In order to lead, you have to respect and appreciate others.
  4. Engage with others and empower them. Create more leaders.
  5. Be authentic – Stand for what you believe in.
  6. Have courage and be innovative by taking risks and being vulnerable.
  7. Develop a global, cultural mindset to understand different cultural practices and how things get done across time zones. Remember everyone wants to feel respected, valued and appreciated.
  8. Create an environment of trust and support.
  9. Communicate with clarity to gain commitment and buy-in.
  10. Sharpen your saw. Build mental agility and physical stamina to stay engaged, focused, and confident. Focus on wellness, positive mindfulness, and overall health and well-being.
  11. Be inspiring – create a vision for a better future that others want to be part of.
  12. Influence others to encourage commitment, retention, and engagement through clear communication.

Advancing women into leadership roles provide multiple benefits to organizations in terms of financial results, employee engagement, and stakeholder value.  A recent research study by DDI shows that successful women leaders are driven to achieve higher financial results, and were rated higher overall by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports as more effective leaders than their male counterparts.


Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and OD Professional Development (Short courses) for ongoing learning.  She can be reached at  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, please visit our website

Institute of Organization Development (IOD) offers Leadership Development Certification Programs (LDCP) to help participants learn how to develop effective leadership development strategies to achieve organization goals and advance their career as a Leadership Development Professional. This program provides participants with the tools and skills needed to guide senior leaders to design and implement a best practice Leadership Development Program.  After completing the program, you will gain a certification as a Leadership Development Professional and earn the distinction of LDCP.

The Leadership Development Certification Program (LDCP) is offered online over 8 months, 3 hours per month to advance your career in Leadership Development.  Each session is delivered through Go-to-training.  Our expert faculty provides interactive discussions, examples, tools, guidelines, and resources to enrich your learning.


Eagly, Alice H. & Carli, Linda L. 2007. Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

Women in Leadership, Best of WIL17, Faculty Highlights, Linkage Institute,


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