Secrets for getting the keys to the C-suite

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While more women are participating in the workforce than ever before, it’s no secret that there’s a disparity when it comes to female representation in the C-suite. 

As of December, women held 50.04% of jobs in the workforce, but despite the slim majority, women only make up 16.5% of executive positions with S&P 500 companies. The disparity becomes starker when looking at female CEO representation, with only 24 of the top 500 companies being led by a woman. 

While Nanette Noland has led The Powell Group as its CEO for decades, she says the pressure is still there for women to look better, work harder and be more fluent than their male counterparts. 

“First, be there early because they’re all looking at you,” she offers as one tip for women who aspire to make it to the C-suite one day. “And because they’re always looking, you always have to look better than the men.”

While she says she’s never experienced open hostility as a woman in business in Baton Rouge, she knows of other female executives who have. An older woman, whom Noland declined to name, once shared with her a story about a visit she received from area businessmen near the beginning of her career in the Capital Region.

“Two men came into her office and sat down at her desk and said that she didn’t need to be doing business in Baton Rouge,” Noland says. “I don’t think she lied to me.”

For Kathy Trahan, CEO and president of the Alliance Safety Council, who has been the C-suite for more than 15 years, learning when to let something go has been her largest challenge as an executive. Being a good leader is knowing what’s important, she says, and navigating to take intelligent risks to create value for your company. 

“Sometimes it’s people or situations,” she says, “but when life has leverage on you, you take things you normally wouldn’t or you don’t let go of things that are unhealthy soon enough. I don’t like to quit, but sometimes you feel like you need to move on.”

She suggests that women with executive aspirations try not to compete as a woman, but to compete—period. 

“Honestly, for a woman to say there aren’t differences—there are,” Trahan says. “If you work, learn, strengthen your mind, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Share your tips for rising to the C-Suite in the comments below.

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