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The (undervalued) power of the She-E-O

Woman executive

In my house, my husband and I agree: I’m the CEO/COO and he’s the CFO/CTO.

Many women, especially working moms, perform like accomplished CEOs, at home and at work.

At home, these She-E-Os set the tone, establish spending priorities, manage operations and act as the main point of contact between the household (spouse, children and helpers), external stakeholders (teachers, professionals, plumbers, family and friends) and outside partners (community and religious groups).

At work, too, women are acting like successful CEOs, no matter where they are on the org chart. They’re using their leadership, organizational and people skills to determine strategy, allocate resources, build bridges, communicate changes effectively and ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction.

But while many women have the same skill set used by accomplished corporate leaders and a record of proven results, few women are recognized and valued for them — and most women are uncomfortable sharing them.

At home — and on social media — women are quick to share news of a child’s or partner’s achievements, but are less likely to toot their own horn. At work, it’s not much different.

Researchers Michelle C. Haynes and Madeline E. Heilman conducted a series of studies that revealed women are not likely to take credit for their role in mixed-gender group work, unless their roles were explicitly understood by outsiders. Women gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves.

So how can senior leaders create workplaces where women can leverage their She-E-O skills, perform as confidently as their male peers do and get recognized for their results?

Here’s how:

Embed gender diversity at all levels, including the C-suite. Women are less likely to believe their achievements will lead to advancement — or self-promote those accomplishments — if they see talented women being overlooked in hiring and promotions.  

Create clear career paths that lead to the top. If women don’t understand how they can build their resumes to advance, they won’t seek the opportunities or assignments that will move them ahead. And they’ll be they’ll less likely to risk alienating peers by speaking up if someone else takes credit for their ideas or successes.

Establish specific criteria for jobs. The clearer the criteria for evaluating candidates for promotion, the less likely gender stereotypes will play a role in talent management. Job-knowledge test scores, for example, are gender-blind. Asking candidates to provide specific, gender-neutral information, such as role-related expertise, will reduce the opportunity for gender bias to creep into the selection process. Everyone should be confident they have been hired or promoted — and evaluated — based on their ability to do the job. Period.

Make sure the job criteria do not favor men over women. Do each role’s criteria set the employee up for success, regardless of their gender or life stage? Or do they create barriers for applicants who are women, particularly during their professional and personal pivot points?

Clarify everyone’s role and responsibilities. It’s easier for all employees to collaborate, work on individual areas for improvement — and take credit where credit is due — if everyone in an organization has a clear understanding of what each person’s role is.

When workforce policies are gender-neutral and workplace cultures are bias-free, we’ll see more She-E-Os stepping into the C-suite — and our companies will be better for it.

This blog first appeared in CSNews magazine.

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Sarah Alter is president and CEO of Network of Executive Women, whose 12,000 members represent 850 companies and 115 corporate partners in 22 regions in North America.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.