It’s no secret that companies with women on boards and in leadership have been shown to perform better than those that don’t. But the numbers of women in top spots is still discouragingly low.
The PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. and Points of Light are making an announcement today at the first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day held at the United Nations about how they intend to contribute to changing that. PwC has supported Points of Light’s Civic Accelerator, which invests in early-stage social ventures.
PwC Principal and Corporate Responsibility Leader Shannon Schuyler will announce today that the Civic Accelerator’s next initiative will focus on expanding its commitment to women entrepreneurs, helping women and girls gain equal access to opportunities and support, with half or more of the beneficiaries led by women founders. The program is designed to give women advice and access to funding, as well as business relationships that can help them succeed, she says.
Through previous initiatives, Schuyler says that PwC found women often have difficulty gaining access to funding, especially in a male-dominated venture capital world. The new initiative will address that problem head-on with the founders involved by pairing women with professionals from their organizations and networks to give them the advice and feedback they need and help coach them through the process.
Networking and finding support are key factors in changing the ratio of women in leadership roles as well as greater diversity overall. Women need to be powerful networkers and take charge of making sure they’re visible to key decision-makers, she says. She tries to walk her talk by mentoring women in her own organization and setting aside at least one day each month to call or otherwise connect with women who reach out to her for advice and assistance.
Schuyler believes that affinity groups–for women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, people with disabilities, people of varying races and ethnicities–and inclusive, formalized mentoring programs can be powerful tools to increase overall diversity. Both create situations where people support and help each other succeed, while fostering understanding and a wider range of viewpoints that can lead to new insights for the company, she says.
For women leaders in particular, Schuyler says that companies need more programs that let women adapt to the demands of different life phases. She says we need more programs that “allow people the opportunity to go off-track and then back on.” Such programs allow women to modify their careers around having children and caretaking demands, which often disproportionately fall on women’s shoulders, while allowing companies to maintain talented women employees over the long-term.
“[At PwC] we have a full-circle program where people can leave the firm, especially new mothers, and they might come back to the firm five years after they have originally left and their children are in school. We’re finding ways that it’s okay to be able to step to the side or step back or step off as long as you have an inroads to get back on because you won’t necessarily be able to go at the same power the entire time,” she says.
Schuyler also wants to see more formalized mentoring relationships become the norm, especially pairing senior executives who are men with promising women leaders. Women don’t have to be mentored by women, she says. When men and women are paired together, either as a man in leadership mentoring a younger woman or a woman in leadership mentoring a younger man, it helps both the mentor and the protégé learn from each other and encourage executive men seek out talented women for promotions and leadership roles.
A 2014 Credit Suisse report found that, among companies surveyed, women in top management posts averaged just 12.9% and that, often, women were found in less influential leadership roles in organizations. But Schuyler is optimistic that things are changing. The increasing influence of Millennials, who seem to have fewer biases about gender, race, religion and other attributes, will have a positive impact on opportunities for women, she says.
She also says that women are starting more businesses at younger ages. That’s where the Civic Accelerator program comes in. By helping to support a community of these women leaders, she hopes to encourage even more women to step onto the entrepreneurial path if it suits them.
“They’ll be supported through funding and mentorships to help scale their innovative ideas to see if it’s another small business or another social venture that will be able to make a huge difference in the economy and in the world overall,” she says.