Exclusive Insights From The Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)

Are women executives better than men at leading companies? Some people think so, although it may be difficult to quantify the exact advantages. Female top executives are a growing force. Today, 46 percent of the privately held companies in the United States are now at least half-owned by women. More than 650 companies on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list are women led.

The 7 women executives highlighted below are part of the Young Presidents’ Organization network and sit atop seven-figure enterprises employing dozens of people. And they all got there before the age of 45. They each were only too happy to educate my male business brain on the advantages of being a woman who runs a growing company today.

1. Women executives manufacture confidence.

When Jessica Goldman-Srebnick became the CEO of Goldman Properties in 2012, she ushered in a new era, where hospitality means so much more than just guest relations. She attributes her success to the confidence placed in her by her team. "As a woman executive, I find that the people that work for me are generally enlightened men and motivated women that feel empowered by working for a woman. There is a deep sense of pride, loyalty and work ethic by the individuals that work for a woman-led business." It is necessary for women executives to create themselves as strong, confident leaders primarily because there are so few, Goldman-Srebnick says. "As a minority, I am in a unique position of standing out among my peers, forced to exude confidence in a room full of men and driven with that competitive spirit that I belong here just as much as anyone else."

2. Women executives attract strong peer communities.

Teen tycoon Rachel Zeitz started Gladiator Lacrosse sports products at the end of 2013, when she was just 13 years of age. With initial help from her father, she developed her products and business plan as a participant in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and has turned it into seven-figure sales quickly. Zeitz has a fresh perspective, running her company at such a young age. She attributes a lot of her success to receiving much-appreciated help from more seasoned female executives: "Being a female in business provides me with a unique community of women that stick together and support one another. I have been overwhelmed by the support of other successful women entrepreneurs who have gone out of their way to mentor me. These are successful women that have already climbed the "wall" in the marketplace but are quick to remember where they came from."

3. Women executives are necessarily efficient.

Emilie Hoyt is the president of LATHER, which started as a small line of pure olive oil-based soaps in 1999 and has quickly grown into a comprehensive collection of all-natural skin care. The hospitality section of the business has boomed, providing branded and custom amenities to more than 300 properties including The Breakers, Canyon Ranch, and Ritz Carlton. Hoyt believes comparisons between men and women executives are unnecessary since individuals have strengths and weaknesses regardless of sex. She does address, however, how traditional roles may give women an edge. "Between our jobs, kids' homework and extracurricular activities, household responsibilities, and community commitments, women are forced to have exceptional time management skills. In fact, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey from June 2013, 82 percent of working women spent time doing housework, cooking, or other household management on an average day, versus just 65 percent of working men."

4. Women executives bring emotional literacy to the table.

Social entrepreneur and attorney Suzanne McKechnie Klahr is the founder and CEO of BUILD, which re-engages kids in education through experiential learning and entrepreneurship. Under her leadership, BUILD has grown from serving four students in East Palo Alto, California, to serving more than 1,400 students across the United States. She shares how openly expressing emotion can advance a powerful cause. "I founded BUILD and became CEO at 26. I was insecure and wanted to show people how smart and strong I was so I hid my vulnerability. I became friends with a work colleague for whom I had great respect. She shared with me that I was so much better to be friends with than to work for, and I realized that if I could bring my true self to work--all my outrageous humanity--I would be more respected and successful. Now I embrace my BIG emotions and bring them to work with me every day. My passion for my work is fueled by the emotion I both witness and express on a daily basis. Loudly cheering for a winning youth business team, sharing their frustration when they face failure, and shedding tears of joy and pride at their graduation--all of these emotions are positive and powerful motivators."

5. Women executives already know how to succeed against the odds.

In her role as CEO of Adara Advisers in Sydney, Australia, Audette Exel is a global financial leader who makes billion-dollar deals routinely and was honored by the World Economic Forum. She is a visionary hero of philanthropy who at age 30, became one of the youngest women in the world to run a publicly traded bank, and through her four years at the helm turned the bank's prospects around. Now her firm funds the administration costs of a non-profit, Adara Development, which helps women, children, and their communities in remote and rural areas improve their lives. Exel explains how developing as a woman executive in a traditional male industry gives her an edge: "I am a woman. I know discrimination. I know what it is like to be underestimated. And I know what it feels like to stand up and succeed against the odds. Many men and women have reached out to support me in my career and life, and to pick me up when I have fallen flat. Tenacity and resilience, with a healthy dose of gratitude and humility, are prerequisites for leaders who are trying to reshape perception and rethink accepted orthodoxy. What better training could there be for entrepreneurship that that?"

6. Women executives see the field with more parity.

Alison Sokol Blosser leads the charge for her 86-acre family winery in Oregon's bucolic Dundee Hills that grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Mller-Thurgau. She has grown the company successfully. They produce more than 1 million bottles annually. Sokol Blosser focuses on leadership as a priority, downplaying the gender factor. "Like every executive running a growing company, I want to win and succeed in a way that benefits my family as the business’ sole owners, our employees, our customers and our community. I find the right balance between being gracious and ruthless depending on the situation. Are these attributes of being a leader unique to me because I’m a woman executive? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t truly know because I know of no other way to be a leader. I’m sure there are many successful male executives who also embody these characteristics, and conversely there are probably many successful women who have other wonderful leadership qualities helping them achieve great success."

7. Women executives have great purpose in setting an example.

Mayu Brizuela de Avila's position as regional head of corporate sustainability for HSBC in Latin America began with her initiating the creation of the department, which prior to 2007 did not exist in the region. When it comes to opening doors and cracking ceilings, Avila is incomparable. She was the first:

  • Female president of an insurance company in El Salvador.
  • Female president of a private bank in El Salvador (Banco Salvadoreno later acquired by HSBC).
  • Female YPO member in Central America.
  • Woman to serve on the board of INCAE Business School.
  • Female Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs (at a time when there were only nine female foreign ministers in the world).

She believes that successful women stand out as shining examples for others to follow. When the President of the Republic of El Salvador handed Avila a Palm de Oro award for lifetime achievement, Avila remembers thinking, "I am one of the very few women to have ever received this recognition. It shows women that anything is possible — simply set your heart to it."

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside the Young Presidents' Organization, the world’s premiere peer-to-peer organization for company leaders under 50.

Published on: Sep 9, 2015
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.