On April 30, 2019, WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. hosted a moderated panel discussion via webinar exclusively for our corporate partners. This blog post will give you a flavor of the shared interview between myself and Cassandra Frangos, Ed.D., Author and C-Suite Succession Expert..
Just a few of Cassandra’s qualifications include researcher, author of Cracking the C-Suite Code, and previously heading the global executive talent practice at Cisco. Currently, as a consultant on Spencer Stuart’s Leadership Advisory Services team, Cassandra collaborates with Fortune 500 leadership teams on executive assessments, succession planning, leadership development, and top team effectiveness. You can imagine how delighted I was to feature Cassandra in an exclusive webinar, called the C-Suite Vantage Point, for WOMEN Unlimited’s corporate partners.
Asked how her research can inform what we can do differently in our organizations to clear a pathway for more women to reach the C-Suite, Cassandra shared a wealth of ideas.
An essential element is increasing the awareness that individuals in the C-Suite neither can—nor should—know all the answers. Women tend to expect themselves to be fully ready and able to check the box for every experience before they even think about a next-level role. In fact, when Korn Ferry recently interviewed female CEOs for Women CEOs Speak, 65% of the female CEOs said they only realized they could become a CEO after someone told them it was actually possible.
In contrast, Cassandra described Chuck Robbins’s attitude as he transitioned to CEO at Cisco. At 50 years old, when Robbins learned at a board meeting that he was being appointed CEO of a $50 million company, he said, “I don’t know all the answers, you know that?”
Cassandra responded, “Yes, I do. As CEO, you won’t be able to know all the answers. You have to create a balanced team around you that does.”
Forging a Path for Women to the C-Suite
Our work at WOMEN Unlimited, along with Cassandra’s findings, shows that fierce independence and the belief that our work should speak for itself block women’s upward mobility. Successful leaders understand that collaboration and strong relationships are crucial to keeping them informed about the business and themselves. Without these relationships, women can’t know how others perceive them and how they need to recalibrate their skill sets as they move into more senior roles. Women need input from people who are “differently informed” to understand the bigger picture.
Cassandra pointed out in the webinar that women need to build a network of people who know their work and how they contribute meaningfully to the business. Outstanding work without visibility and sponsorship goes nowhere. Those who want to advance need relationships with people who have power to sponsor them and advocate for them when the women themselves aren’t in the room. And, of course, women need to learn how to talk about their contributions early in their careers so that others can see their potential at every juncture.
To create pathways to accelerate advancement for women, Cassandra highlighted the following actions:
- Identify and communicate with women who are considered high potentials. Help these women envision themselves as future executives who create balanced teams with diverse strengths to surround them.
- Prepare mentors and coaches to encourage women to speak the language of collaboration, contribution, and impact, discouraging the fierce “heads down, work hard” mentality that so often derails women.
- Ensure that women have mentors and sponsors who can coach them, introduce them, and advocate for them within the organizations. While it’s helpful to engage outside coaches for specific skill-building, visibility comes with sponsors and mentors within the organization.
- Guide women to map out careers that include profit and loss responsibility as well as roles in which they can demonstrate strength as change agents. These are the roles that get women on the scorecard. The practice of promoting women primarily to communication or human resource positions won’t get them to the C-Suite.
- Follow the current trend of increasing the number of positions at the executive level. (The number of C-Suite roles has roughly doubled in the last 20 years.) Examples include chief technology officer and chief digital officer. Appoint younger people to these positions.
Each of these actions will help our corporate partners accelerate the path of their high potential women into leadership. Let’s join forces in helping women and their mentors develop the mindset, relationships, and experience they need to succeed.
To take advantage of the Wharton Digital Press offer, which includes a discount for Cassandra’s book, go to:
Promotion code: WomenUnlimited19
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.