CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President,
Sodexo North America
Earlier this month, in the middle of another stretch of tough headlines for women to digest, an interviewer posed to me a question:
What can women do to become CEOs and succeed in corporate life?
Boom. That’s a big question. I think I had about five minutes to respond. I tried – the answer I gave to Robert Reiss of the CEO Forum is below. I stand by it, but it was off-the-cuff. This question is so broad, filled with so many assumptions and has so many potential answers, that I wanted to mull on it more. I’d like to crowd source it on LinkedIn.
How would you respond?
Here’s an edited version of how I responded:
I think there are things that women can do and also things that men and corporate America can do.
For women, I think we can make sure to raise our hands. For a long time, I believed that if I kept my head down and worked hard and did my job that someone would say, “Okay here’s your next job and maybe you want to be CEO.”
Well, That’s just not how it happens. I’m now a big believer in being appropriately vocal in what your aspirations are. And, in delivering results.
But that’s not enough. If that were enough, we’d be at gender parity because there are so many qualified female executives in this country.
If that were enough, we’d be at gender parity because there are so many qualified female executives in this country.
Women also need to have advocates. You have to have leaders – oftentimes those are men – who want to genuinely change what their executive team looks like. They genuinely have to say, “I need a different representation of my board because it’s good for my business.”
It’s been proven out that diverse teams and diverse boards make for better results. If you’re still asking if there’s a business case for diversity then you’re going to get left behind.
I say to male leaders, look around your table and if it isn’t balanced – or near balanced — then change it. CEOs have the ability to do that in the right way. Sometimes they have to make courageous decisions. We have to be willing to do things differently and sometimes that is difficult.
For example, something that puts women out of the running is that they might have a different kind of experience or a different skill set. Leadership skills may look different than our traditional models. Here I’m not just talking about gender diversity, I’m talking about all kinds of diversity.
What do you think? How do we get from here to real gender parity in corporate America and elsewhere?