Want Women CEO’s? Look to the Next Gen

As one of the few women CEOs in Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that only a handful are at the top of our most powerful companies (NYTimes Why Women Aren’t CEOs). In fact, Uber serves as the ultimate poster child for the need to change the mindset and culture across industries.

If we truly want to allow women to get to the top – as CEOs and as entrepreneurs – then we need to start with the next generation.

That’s because, even though women dominate the professional workforce, only 36% are entrepreneurs, 14% are engineers, and now, only 6% are CEOs.  It will take seismic changes, not baby steps, for real shifts to occur in companies today.  Unfortunately, very few corporate leaders are willing to do this, at least in the US.

Even top-name CEOs who talk about equality aren’t moving the needle. I was on the phone just this week with a woman in the financial services practice of a leading software company. I was investigating job opportunities for a friend and she said they had hired about 15 new employees earlier this year. I asked how many were women, and she embarrassingly said, “one.”

This isn’t surprising because opportunity is all about networks.   After working in Silicon Valley, where I was one of a handful of female CEOs in 2000, I saw the power of networks first hand.  It led me to conduct research for a book, which confirmed that men leverage their networks more than women. When you have people with similar backgrounds working together, they create homogenous networks. These networks are critical to getting jobs, starting successful businesses, securing funding or moving to the corner office.

Getting women over the hump and to the top won’t change until we:

  • Change the mindset of women to realize they have the skills to lead from the top
  • Change the mindset of parents to start training their daughters now
  • Change the culture in corporate America to leverage and incorporate woman at the top

We are seeing tremendous results in our early pilot – where the “lights are turned on” as girls begin to start businesses or nonprofit efforts.  Their confidence, business knowledge, and soft skills are skyrocketing. As one father said, “it’s business conditioning for my daughter early on that’s so essential.”

It’s possible to get women to the top – we just need to start with the next generation.