Women make excellent leaders. It's been proven over and over, most recently by a Nordea Bank report that found that companies with female CEOs or female heads of the board of directors outperformed male-led companies by 25%.
One problem that persists, however, is that many women CEOs are succeeded by male leaders - no matter how long those women have held their leadership position.
While these men are, in all likelihood, well-qualified and good choices for their positions, the trend simply indicates what we've known for a long time: The talent pipeline for women leaders just isn't there.
The fact that this is true even for companies that have been led by women for years shows the complexity of the problem. So how can we, female CEOs and other members of the C-suite, help change this reality? Here are 3 things all of us should be doing to fix the female talent pipeline and empower our female employees.
Be an active mentor.
Mentoring is one of the first things many women leaders think of when they consider how to help other women succeed. There's good reason for it - many of us were probably helped along our path by our own powerful female mentors.
But we have to go further than just making ourselves available as mentors. We need to actively seek out other talented women in our companies whom we could help support.
This takes an investment of time and emotional resources - two things that are often in shorter supply for women leaders, as many of us have families we're also caring for - but it's an investment that could help change the face of not just your company, but the business world as a whole.
Help female employees see themselves as future CEOs.
The Harvard Business Review reports that one of the reasons there are fewer women than men in the C-suite is that women often don't see those jobs as a possibility.
As female CEOs, we are living proof that these jobs are a possibility for the women who work for us. However, it takes more than just showing up to work every day to help other women see themselves in the role.
To do that, we must take an active role in supporting that vision. During performance reviews or feedback sessions with your promising female employees, ask them if they aspire to the C-suite. If they do, ask how you can help them get there.
When it comes to your general workplace culture, it's important to normalize the idea of women as CEOs.
To do so, we can take a cue from the education world, specifically the KIPP network of charter schools, which serves mainly low-income students.
Every class, starting from the kindergartners, is told the year they'll graduate from college. They are told they can and will graduate from college if they put in the work. This way, each students thinks of him or herself as a potential college grad - even if no one else in their families has gone to college.
We can translate this concept into our own workplaces by talking about female CEOs, facilitating leadership development opportunities for women, and doing all we can to help other women think of themselves as future business leaders.
Ensure we're not living out unconscious biases in our hiring and promoting practices.
No matter how aware we are of the fact that women usually have to prove themselves more times over than men to receive the same promotion, we may still unconsciously be living out those biases in our own promotion and hiring practices.
It's worthwhile for all of us to take a reality check on a regular basis and examine how we're behaving. Are we identifying talented women as often as we are talented men? Are we expecting more from our female employees than our male ones? Are we actually giving future female leaders a clear path to the C-suite, or are we just talking about it?
All the leadership development, positive talk, and mentoring we do won't mean much if we aren't actually promoting women up the corporate ladder. If we talk the talk without walking the walk, then we may be encouraging other women to seek out leadership roles - but they'll be doing it at other companies.
For more on women in leadership, read my post "Why Do Professional Women Need Networking More Than Men?"