Women Executives VS. Men Executives – Who Lasts Longer?

I have just been promoted to an executive leadership role. This has been my goal for over 20 years, and I want to ensure my success. I understand the average executive tenure is 5 years, and wonder if there is a difference for female versus male executives. I didn’t work this hard to be gone in 5 years. This transition seems bigger or different than the rest. What are the words of wisdom for people going from manager to leader to senior executive?

A. Congratulations on your promotion, and kudos for recognizing a significant life event, transition, and challenge. The attrition rate of executives is very high and recent research reveals that the picture is not improving. According to the Conference Board (conference-board.org) CEO Succession Practices (4/2012) the average tenure of a CEO declined to 8.4 years in 2011 from 10 years in 2000. Other C-level executives share the same turnover timeframe. So, as you enter this new role you may have a bit more runway than you were expecting.


Making an impact at the executive level is different than at any other level in the organization, and successfully maneuvering this transition can support your success. Linda Rossetti, Managing Director, Golden Seeds, LLC, former EVP at an S&P 500 Corporation and blogger at Novofemina.com addresses these kinds of transitions, and others for women. Rossetti encourages you to look at two categories of change as you move from a senior leadership role to that of an executive. “First, as you step into an executive position people and culture become the most significant levers you have in delivering value to the organization.”

Typically leaders who are elevated to executive positions have consistently outperformed their peers by spearheading a wide variety of initiatives within an organization. These initiatives generate value in ways such as delivering profit & loss results, or the successful delivery of major strategic initiatives, or the delivery of complex capital projects. Rossetti goes on to say, “As you transition to the executive role, leaders on your staff will be directly responsible for these types of initiatives. You can focus on the leaders themselves, the people, and the culture within which they operate. This pivot often trips up outstanding performers. “Despite women’s lower numbers in the executive ranks, this typical female strength may support the success and longevity of women executives”.


Second, says Rossetti, “Think through the politics of your organization and the potential role it may have on your success.” The best leaders manage politics in as disciplined a fashion as managing a complex capital project. If this isn’t your strong suit I’d encourage you to find an external confidant with whom you can think out loud and explore potential strategies to navigate politically-charged executive teams.

All executives are very aware of their compensation, and female executives sadly need no reminder that on the whole, their compensation remains less than their male counterparts (S&P CEO Pay Study). So move the business levers, deliver value, and ensure you receive value in return.

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