On this International Women’s Day, how can we help women succeed professionally?

Elaine Varelas weighs in on the current state of women in the workforce and how we can all support women in their professional endeavors.

Q:  At my five-year college reunion, my best female friends and I talked about women and careers. We are all in such different places. We can’t help but wonder, what is going on with women in leadership? Are we making advances? It doesn’t seem that way. What are the obstacles?
A: On this International Women’s Day 2023, women in the professional world continue to be an underrepresented minority as they climb the leadership track. Sadly, in many professions they may be in the majority up until they reach the senior director level. The support they need has been well documented, and exemplary organizations provide that support to retain and promote women in leadership. However, there is a large disconnect with how women and men view gender equality and parity in the workplace. A recent survey by Monster showed that 63% of men believe everyone is treated equally and fairly, compared to only 31% of women.
The Mommy track continues to exist in professional organizations. Many women during Covid believed they had no choice but to leave the workforce and devote themselves to childcare full time as there were so few options available.  Organizations have surfaced to support women who are reentering the workforce after having stayed out to raise their children. Some of these organizations have not been as successful as they had hoped.
Organizations that provide guidance and assistance to women reentering the worforce include: iRelaunch, with their tagline Normalizing Career Breaks; Path Forward, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people to restart their careers after time spent focused on caregiving; and The Mom Project, an organization committed to helping women remain active in the workforce in every stage of their journey. If you are in this situation, research where your support may be found.  And don’t overlook your personal network.
Some women have gone into significantly more entrepreneurial ventures. Angel investors focused on women like Golden Seeds, the largest group of angel investors that focus on women-led businesses, have been getting more press. Women get two percent of all angel investors funding which is why Golden Seeds is focused on women entrepreneurs only. Many academic institutions and even corporate internal development programs are creating programs to help women succeed into leadership roles. What you and your friends need to focus on is developing a very strong network represented by both women and men in senior leadership positions. Look for educational opportunities to help you significantly enhance your visibility both within your organization and to competing organizations and recruiters, if your own organization isn’t giving you that opportunity.
Having the opportunity to develop skills in non-profit and volunteer work can absolutely help you not only develop the skills, but also help you meet other people who may have for profit job opportunities to help you reap financial rewards of leadership opportunities. For the past twenty years, The Boston Club, a nonprofit organization committed to expanding the number of women in corporate leadership positions, in conjunction with Bentley University has been tracking the number of women serving as board directors and executives at the 100 largest Massachusetts companies. Their 2022 report found that women now hold 29.6% of board seats and 21.5% of executive officer level positions at these companies, up from 27.7% of board seats and 20.9% of executive officer positions in 2021.
And in the words of the late Madeline Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." And to senior women in leadership, take the opportunity to make one of your goals is to mentor one woman a year and help them succeed. Recognize that the old boy’s network has been doing it forever. If there is anything you can do to help a woman succeed, now is the time to give that woman a boost.