Opening the Door for Female Leaders

January 22, 2019
Dr. Patti Fletcher, author of best-selling book “Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold,” shares her philosophy on how women can “open the door” for themselves and others to create an environment where all talent can thrive in an increasingly diverse workforce.

By Dr. Patti Fletcher, Best-Selling Author of “Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold”

By opening the door to a new way of working, women can thrive as business leaders. Dr. Patti Fletcher, writer, speaker and business advisor, explains how.

The workforce has been through phenomenal changes over the past century. There are five generations in employment now, women make up 50% of the workforce, and in the U.S. alone there will not be one race in the majority by 2045, meaning we are already highly diverse. Despite this, our business systems have not changed for well over 100 years. The way we make decisions and the infrastructure we have in place have yet to adapt to today’s modern, diverse workforce. It’s clear that “one size fits all” no longer suits us. The question is, how can we implement change?

What is really going to make a difference is informed action, and to do that, we need to understand the backdrop. Women control just over half of all the wealth in the U.S., and 65% of successful private equity exits have female founders. In contrast, only 4% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, and just 2% of venture/external funding goes to women-founded startups. There is a misguided belief held by many that gender disparity in the workforce is a case of individual women vs. individual men, but this is simply not true. The problem, ultimately, is the system. What can we do? We can sit around and wait for others to solve inequity for us in the ever-elusive charge to smash the glass ceiling, or we can open the door in front of us and solve it ourselves by enabling a new way of working where all talent can thrive and where every single one of us is a leader.

Here are a few tips for how to open the door for female leaders.

Establish a platform for change

Many women worry that by focusing on themselves – on their promotion, a pay raise or winning the next big project – they are not creating a platform that elevates other women. However, when you create a path for yourself, you make it much easier for others to follow; the door you open is held open for other women to walk through.

By focusing on yourself and your career, you are also helping to train the leaders of tomorrow. When leaders make decisions about which path they are going to go down, they make it OK for everyone else to do the same. In this way, we change the conversation.

It’s important to realize that positions do not determine your platform. Of course, they help a lot – CEOs and partners got to their level because they earned it, and we want to learn from them – but any one of us has the opportunity to create that platform for change. Whether you are just starting out, have reached the pinnacle or are somewhere in between, you can build a platform right from where you are. Once you create that platform, you can work on orchestrating a new conversation.

Create a community of belonging

Millennials and Gen Zers, who have grown up exposed to different opinions and people, expect not just diversity, but also inclusion. Diversity is about representing women and people of color in the workforce, whereas inclusion requires fostering an environment in which all talent feels a sense of belonging and can flourish.

How do we create an inclusive workplace? By considering the human factor in our decisions, you can establish an environment in which individuals feel welcome and thrive. It is up to us to create a culture where we not only open the door to new talent, but we make it OK for everyone else to see themselves as belonging. When you belong, you work harder, are more loyal and see a path for yourself.

We can use the purpose and passion we have to orchestrate a new conversation with both men and women on the topic of equity. We do this by putting chairs around our table, holding open the door and saying, “You are welcome here. I need your voice and your action.” Our job as transformational leaders – people who value relationships – is to raise the next generation of leaders in an inclusive way.

By considering the human factor in our decisions, you can establish an environment in which individuals feel welcome and thrive.  

Be a champion for others

For so long, the answer to inequity, particularly gender inequity, has been mentoring – and that is critical, especially for younger people who are learning the ropes. Being able to learn from someone – how to do your job better and why working harder and smarter makes a difference – is essential in your early career. However, when it comes to equity, we need champions and advocates, people who can propel others to the next stage. When you hear about the next big project or opportunity, be the advocate for the woman who has been overlooked. By opening the door for someone else, you are investing in the next generation of leaders.

There is room for all the best in available talent. “Queen bee syndrome” – the concept that there is only room for one woman at the top – is a myth. It stems from an antiquated system that does not reflect modern society or business as a whole.

Align yourself with people who have similar goals

Modern-day tribes bring together people who have common interests and are facing similar challenges. Tribes cultivate a sense of safety. You invite your fellow tribemates into your network and open the door for them. In return, they help to open the door for you.

Why is a tribe so important? Imagine having the safety of a community where you can test your ideas or meet people who are your next client. No one gets to the finish line alone – we are all in this together.

If you’re not in a tribe, start one. Then think about how you are going to create a safe environment for your tribe. One way is by being willing to be vulnerable. The journey to your own finish line is never going to be perfect. You are going to entrepreneur your way there and figure out what works, today and tomorrow. If we don’t say “I’m going to be vulnerable” and allow the people around us to do the same, that door is going to remain shut.

Hold the door open

We can open the door for ourselves and hold it open so that all talent, regardless of gender, race or lifestyle, can pass through. How are you going to hold the door open? Look around your life – do you see a high-potential woman who has been doing incredible work? Take her out to lunch, find out what her passions are and offer to introduce her to people who can help her to fulfill her passions and make an impact. Be her champion and her advocate.

Women tend to get overlooked – what’s important is what you do about it. Look for the woman in the windowless office in the basement, who has been doing a great job. Talk about her to your friends, share the impact she has made, and hold the door open for her so that she has the opportunity you know she deserves.

Dr. Patti Fletcher is a gender equity advocate, speaker, tech executive, board member and investor. She is the best-selling author of “Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold” and writes for, Inc., The Guardian, Forbes and The Digitalist. Dr. Fletcher advises corporate executives and board members from lean startups to Fortune 500 companies. She is currently an executive-in-residence at Babson College WIN Lab and formerly an executive-in-residence at the Simmons College Entrepreneurship Program.

The BBH Center for Women & Wealth would like to thank Dr. Patti Fletcher for sharing her insights during the BBH Women’s Network.

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