To Close the Gender Gap, Women Need Better Advice

Why haven’t more women moved to the highest corporate levels? Maybe they aren’t getting the advice they need.

That’s Susan Colantuono’s, CEO of Leading Women, conclusion. Women make up about 50 percent of middle management, but only a third of that number are at the top. What’s stopping them from finishing their climb?

In a recent TEDtalk, C gave the example of a woman who had done everything right in her career. She’d improved her confidence, had great reviews from colleagues and mentors, taken courses, worked with a mentor and the rest. But after the second time she was passed over for a promotion, she was stumped.

C’s research led to the conclusion that while much of the advice women have received over the years is good and important, it is incomplete. Here’s why: women have been taught to build confidence, to build networks, to develop their communication and leadership skills. Check, check, and check.

But when companies are filling top positions, they are looking for all that—and another thing: what she labels Business Strategic Financial Acumen.

And most people guiding women to advance, from their companies to their managers to their mentors, often fail to help women develop their skills and knowledge there. Women are taught to develop their personal greatness, and their skills using it to draw out the greatness of others. But the third piece of leadership is financial and business chops.

“Conventional advice to women hasn’t closed the gender gap in 40 years, and won’t close it,” she says.

She doesn’t lay all the blame at women’s feet, but insists companies are not doing enough to guide any of their middle managers—men and women—to excel at understanding and advancing business strategy.

So how are men learning this more than women? “Two reasons,” she says. “The positions they are guided to, and informal mentoring.”

Mentors working with women often focus most of their efforts on confidence and relationship skills, as those are allegedly what women need help with. “We have unexamined mindsets,” she says.

And if women are ever going to close the gender gap, it is time to shake up the conventional advice.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.