Women Leaders

How to Recruit More Female Executives

Women make up 61 percent of the U.S. workforce, earn almost 60 percent of all undergraduate degrees and 37 percent of all MBAs, yet many companies continue to lag in placing females in executive positions.

According to the Center for American Progress, women make up only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 company board seats.

Yet recruiting highly qualified female executives can be valuable for organizations. Studies show that companies with a higher percentage of women in top management positions tend to have higher growth in stock prices and larger returns on equity, according to McKinsey research cited in a white paper from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School

To help build a truly diverse organization that will benefit from the unique leadership characteristics of female executives, recruiters must prioritize hiring women for executive positions. Here are five steps for getting started: 

Related: Market to Empowered Women: It's Ethical -- And It's Good for Business

1. Assess current gaps in recruiting, developing and retaining women.

According to the UNC study, many organizations have actual or perceived gaps in how men and women are recruited and developed. Determine where a given company stands by analyzing the percentage of women versus men serving in executive roles, and compare salaries to ensure equity in pay.

Also analyze the percentage of women versus men who participate in training, mentoring or other career-development activities, and consider surveying current and former employees to find out whether they perceive differences in the way males and females are recruited and developed. 

2. Make changes if necessary.

If a company's analysis uncovers real or perceived gaps in recruiting and retaining women, develop solutions for addressing those differences. If few women are participating in career-development activities, for instance, consider setting up a special mentoring program for female executives. Or if a salary study shows that men are being paid more for doing the same work as women, by all means, adjust those salaries.

Related: Gender Roles Be Damned: This Startup CEO Quit His Job to Be a Better Dad

3. Offer workplace flexibility.

While flexible-working arrangements are important for everyone, in many cases women employees are handling child care and elder care duties on the home front, so flexibility is especially important to them. If the company is serious about recruiting and retaining high-potential women executives, consider offering on-site day care, job sharing, part-time work options, flexible hours or telecommuting.

In addition, companies should also make sure managers are equipped to manage flexible workers to avoid a negative perception of employees who avail themselves of the options. Such work-life flexibility is an important tool for recruiting women executives. 

4. Cast a wider net.

If a company is having trouble finding qualified female applicants, spread out recruiting efforts to venues where women are likely to be reached easily. Locate women’s organizations in the area and visit them, consider advertising on women’s employment websites and invest in targeted advertising of the company's job listings. Consider the organization's participation on job boards and at career fairs at women’s colleges. And ask current employees to help in referring talented women they know personally or professionally. 

5. Weigh promoting current female employees.

If high-potential female workers are already employed at the company, look for opportunities to promote them into leadership roles. If they aren't yet ready for executive-level positions, enroll them in leadership training or mentorship programs to prepare them.

When other high-potential females consider joining the organization, they will be more likely to visualize themselves succeeding there if other women have already risen to important roles in the company.

Related: 9 Ways to Become a Woman Influencer