The case for having more female representation in the workplace—particularly at the executive level—is strong.
An even gender split at one company contributed to a 41% increase in revenue. Research from Catalyst demonstrates that companies with higher female representation in top management outperform those that don’t by delivering 34% greater returns to shareholders. Another report revealed women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500.
We also know that both men and women share the same skills that drive business. Yet the recent McKinsey/LeanIn.org study found that from entry level to manager and from SVP to executive rank, women are less likely to advance. The greatest disparity occurs between the move from manager to director: There is a 79% chance that women managers will reach director level, compared to 100% chance for men in the study.
One group of women aims to break that glass ceiling by helping each other become leaders. Founded in 2013, The CLUB (an acronym for Connect, Lead, Unite, Build) is a diverse community of professional women with over 200 members. Membership is by application and the CLUB also offers networking and member-led skills development and other programming relevant to career advancement.
To help solve the pipeline problem, the CLUB’s organizers hope to "build a critical mass of women leaders in Silicon Valley, so that when a company needs to fill a leadership position, whether for a CEO, CIO, CTO, general counsel, director, or a project leader, it need not look any further than the CLUB."
Laraine McKinnon joined the CLUB in its early days. "I was interested in networking," McKinnon says. She says she was drawn in by what the name stood for and the inclusiveness of the membership.
McKinnon soon discovered that even with the CLUB’s focus on career development and leadership, something was missing. Among the women who developed expertise in their fields, many had access to training and leadership development within their organizations. What they didn’t have, according to McKinnon, was the chance to develop their own personal brand outside their workplace.
"Women keep their heads down [at work]," she says. While they often get great reviews, she explains, "They look up one day and say ‘I’m not being recognized the way I ought to be.’" In an era of social media platforms that can showcase what an individual has accomplished and their viewpoints on industry trends, McKinnon believes there is a big opportunity for women to become known for their personal expertise.
So she started the CLUB’s Incubator in 2015. McKinnon describes it as an advocacy program designed to help senior leaders accelerate both their careers and personal potential by focusing on community, network, and board readiness, among other areas. McKinnon says there is an aspect of accountability for progress and members are encouraged to engage in discussions on how best to manage challenges.
The first class had seven incubees from companies such as Apple, Facebook, Tesla, and Adobe. Seeing the response from women at these top firms, McKinnon says, "I knew I was onto something." A new class began recently with 10 new incubees.
Overall, the group comes from a diverse set of backgrounds, ethnicities, companies, roles, and leadership styles. Their career tenure ranges from 10 to 35 years and they hold positions that span industries from litigator to full stack developer, rocket scientist to entrepreneur and marketing executive.
Last year’s group has cited benefits from assistance with the creation of their public profile, to gaining confidence to grow professionally and having a better roadmap to get there. Others said they were able to leverage their newfound knowledge to get a promotion or an advisory role.
The new group is winning awards and snagging coveted speaking engagements. McKinnon points out that Megan Jones, a partner at the firm Hausfeld, was even selected to attend the United State of Women Summit at the White House.
In a blog post, another incubee, Olga Mack, also in the legal profession, went from viewing gender inequality as a "hurdle that I could overcome over time if I tried a little harder," to a radical shift toward action.
"I started the Women Serve on Boards petition movement (#WomenServeOnBoards) that makes a fiscal and social case for taking initial steps toward gender equality on boards. My first two petitions — to Land O’Lakes and Discovery Communications, two companies on the list of 24 — requests these companies to add at least one woman to its board of directors."
Yet gender isn’t always the first point of discussion, McKinnon underscores. "When I am coaching women, I am reminding them that first, they are a leader and they have a style." She does say that some women feel that their leadership style is informed by gender, but their credentials stand apart from that.
"For Silicon Valley in particular, bright talent is important," she notes. It helps, says McKinnon, that people are starting to recognize the diverse teams tend to be more successful. For her part, she doesn’t think changing the ratio of female representation in leadership will take as long as closing the gender wage gap.
"There is strength in numbers," she explains, "And that is why we are trying to built this community." The CLUB’s members and incubees are resilient, she says. "They’ve been through it all and they’ve still got drive and momentum. It’s extremely inspiring," says McKinnon. "If we can help them as a cohort, it just gives back in spades."