Book Excerpt: Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World

It has been a long time coming, but history and experience have proven the importance of women in our workplace, in our government, in our society.

As detailed in my new book, numerous studies show that companies with women in top management positions perform better. State legislatures and other governmental bodies are more effective when women are included. Societies are more stable, less volatile and more productive in countries where women are treated as equals.

Yet still, women are a minority in most organizations. With all of the business and societal problems we face today, there's no time like the present to bring equality into sight to make the world a better place for our daughters—and our sons—tomorrow.

My vision for the future is to have more "sisters" everywhere in our organizations—"sisters" who will combine the female tendency to be responsible and forward-looking with the male tendency to take risks.

With more "sisters" we will have different ways of looking at problems, more diversity of thought. More women on corporate boards will yield more women as corporate officers. Mentoring programs will be a priority, and human resources departments will rethink policies to be more family-friendly. Succession planning should be in place, and we move forward from being tokens to a critical mass where our voices will be heard.

Won't it be truly remarkable when we have so many women in leadership roles—CEOs, directors and other executive positions—that we won't need to count women anymore? I am hoping it will be in my lifetime.

So how are we going to make it happen?

First, we all need to help women get to the top of their organizations. At all levels, we need to support one another, proactively develop and promote women on our own teams, be their advocates, and help them get the visibility they need.

When I ask women why there aren't more women in the senior ranks of any organization, the answer I frequently hear is, "The woman at the top likes being the only woman." They are not helping others climb the career ladder and join them in leading the organization to new heights. Others say, "I did it on my own merit, so others can too." Actually none of us—women or men—made it to the top on our own.

If we are truly interested in our future and in being a part of our organization's success, we should all want more women at all levels of our organization. Research has shown that in companies with women at all levels, returns are better, shareholder value is higher, and employees are happier. And if we don't hire and grow these very talented women, our organizations will lose out on a significant talent pool.

I believe women need to be woven throughout the fabric of any organization that cares about success. In a company, women should comprise at least 30-40 percent of working committees at all levels. Additionally, since women comprise nearly 50 percent of the working population, all levels of an organization should include at least 30-40 percent women. This will provide more opportunities for women to seek higher-level positions.

Companies need to realize that it is in their own best interest to adopt a "women-friendly" culture, which can bring about better decisions (just ask the World Economic Forum participants) and deliver more value to the bottom line. This includes such proactive activities as mentorship, career opportunities that allow access to more senior positions, family-friendly policies with more flexibility, and evaluation criteria based on the value the individual delivers.

Women need to have mentors and strong advocates who will push them to excel. And all women need to realize that they have this same responsibility to be a mentor and advocate for other women. More experienced women also need to let younger women have a chance to spread their wings and lead.

I like the strategy of the National Association of Female Executives and its goal to significantly expand and improve the pipeline to the executive suite by recruiting, developing, and promoting women from entry-level jobs on up. The organization annually identifies the top companies for female executives by using the following criteria:

1. There are at least two women on the board of directors.

2. Women are common in senior ranks—running departments and divisions, reporting directly to the CEO, and participating in corporate succession plans.

3. The company's executive team is aimed at helping women to be successful at all levels of the company.

4. Women are engaged and part of the corporate culture.

5. Women are rewarded by showing the value they deliver to the company.

6. Women's voices are heard.

We should all want to have our companies on this group's Top 10 list. Does your organization meet these requirements? What might you be able to do to help make change happen so it would qualify?

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