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What’s Really Holding Women Back from the C-Suite

Goldsmith, MarshallCertainly there are many factors contributing to the absence of women at the top of companies—sex discrimination, gender bias, the fact that people promote those who remind them of themselves, to name a few. But to Marshall Goldsmith, who has been coaching executives for 35 years, there is one simple—but not so easy—way to help close the leadership gap. “Fix childcare in this country,” says the author of Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts, Becoming the Person You Want to Be. “Make it more affordable, and more women will stay in their careers—and be promoted.”

Women’s Thinning Ranks

You wouldn’t think women have a dropout problem, judging by recent graduation data. Young women complete high school at a higher rate than boys, account for the majority of college degrees and earn almost half of graduate degrees every year. But dropping out is an issue when it comes to careers. “One of my clients, an investment bank, hired an equal number of young men and women, thinking that in 20 years, they would have a 50:50 gender ratio at the top,” Goldsmith says. “But that wasn’t what happened. More women than men left.”

Female doctors and lawyers also head for the exit as they get older. While they make up half of their professions when they are young, they make up closer to 30 percent when they hit age 40, reported The Atlantic recently. Presumably the same goes for other careers. Across the board, women’s participation in the labor force peaks at 74 percent when they are age 35 to 44, compared to men, who peak at 90 percent when they are 35 to 44, and still work near women’s peak rate until traditional retirement age.

Shattering Glass

Of course, women leave the workforce for many reasons, and the ones who stay are still not proportionately rising to the highest levels. But the steep cost of childcare can make it not worth it for both parents to work, and since the woman earns less (hello, pay gap!), she’s the one who quits, taking herself out the running for advancement.

So how to make childcare more affordable? “More tax credits,” Goldsmith says. “They’re the best thing to help women not have to leave mid-career so they can get the skills and experience they need to move up.”

And to the women who are staying put, Goldsmith has these three pieces of advice:

  • “Focus on marketing yourself and being more self-promotional—in and outside your company. It’s a delusion that people’s work speaks for itself.”
  • “Value your time and don’t do chores at home that you can pay someone minimum wage to do.”
  • “If there is sex discrimination—conscious or unconscious—at your company, find another job and leave. Don’t sacrifice your career for someone else’s problem.”


▶ Read more from the March 2016 newsletter.

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