Womens’ leadership positions. Prestige. Wealth. Influence. Women need to be motivated by these critical factors to attain senior leadership positions. So, why aren’t they?

New Bain & Company research reveals less than half of U.S. women say they feel inspired by the potential prestige, wealth, and influence of senior leadership positions; companies looking to diversify their leadership must address this with women as directly as they do with men

Understanding the critical factors that inspire women is the first step to creating a work environment in which they thrive. Today, only 46 percent of U.S. women say they are inspired by the prestige, wealth, and influence that comes from senior level positions – less than any other source of inspiration. Yet, according to new research from Bain & Company, Gender Parity: Inspiring Women to Reach for the C-Suite, these factors are actually the most important in helping women reach senior leadership positions.

Working with Dynata, a leading data firm, Bain & Company surveyed approximately 12,000 men and women and conducted in-depth, follow-on interviews with executive women around the world about various factors that can affect the leadership mindset. They found that feeling empowered, supported, and capable were important, but feeling inspired stood out as the key factor beyond all others. In fact, those who feel inspired – whether male or female – are more than twice as likely to have the senior leadership mindset.

According to Bain & Company’s research, the most important source of this inspiration specifically among U.S. women is the potential prestige, wealth and influence of senior leadership positions, but many women have been given the message that wanting money and power is unfeminine. Culturally, they are told that these factors are inappropriate to discuss.

“Not only are prestige, wealth and influence most important for American women, this set of factors is actually more important for women than it is for men,” said Jennifer Hayes, chair of Bain & Company’s Global Women’s Leadership Council. “And yet men are more likely than women to say they are inspired by these factors day-in and day-out. Companies looking to diversify their leadership miss a large opportunity if they don’t begin to address this with women as directly as they do with men rising through the ranks.”

Many successful female executives that Bain & Company interviewed emphasized the fact that women should be comfortable talking about this topic. Serving in the C-suite is challenging, and consuming of both energy and time, regardless of gender.
That effort and sacrifice should be compensated accordingly.

Additionally, many women highlight a far broader view of “prestige, wealth and influence” than one simply about money or status. To them, it is about the potential for impact – the people, topics or causes that they care about, including the ability to help advance other women in their organizations, provide for their families, and contribute to relatives’ higher education.

It is vital that women see and understand the power, wealth and influence that comes with senior roles. Bain & Company’s research points to three actions companies and managers – male and female – can take to help address this inspiration gap and support women climbing the ranks:

Proactively share the full value proposition: Make sure women understand the tangible benefits of reaching top leadership as well as the value and impact they can have in senior roles, and that they know talking about these topics is acceptable.
Show clear paths to leadership: Ensure women see a route they can travel to senior management.
Ensure role models are visible: Highlight individuals who exemplify different models of success and provide a holistic view of these leaders, both professionally and personally.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While prestige, power and influence were particularly important to American women, Bain & Company’s research found that their counterparts in China and Germany especially respond to inspirational leadership, and those in India to work-life balance. Keeping women’s unique context in mind and tailoring initiatives accordingly is imperative.

Women also need to play a role by:
1) asking for what they want;
2) understanding their value and getting comfortable talking about compensation;
3) knowing where they are on succession plans.

“This may feel uncomfortable for many women, but that probably means they are on the right track,” said Melissa Artabane, Bain & Company’s director of diversity and inclusion. “Closing the gender gap in senior leadership is a complex undertaking and requires efforts from both companies and individuals to make it happen.”

About Bain & Company
Bain & Company is a global consultancy that helps the world’s most ambitious change-makers define the future. Across 58 offices in 37 countries, we work alongside our clients as one team with a shared ambition: to achieve extraordinary results that outperform their competition and redefine their industries. We complement our tailored, integrated expertise with a curated ecosystem of digital innovators to deliver better, faster and more enduring outcomes to our clients.
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