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Looking out at the landscape of international security, there are still troublingly few women leaders in executive positions, especially in the private and non-profit sector. In 2023 it is surprising to see so many agencies and offices continually unable to meet the (arguably modest) 5% women-owned business procurement goals. Notably, a recent survey by Goldmans Sachs highlights that 99% of women-owned small businesses believe the federal government could do more to support their businesses.
Working at The Critical Mass - owned and run by female CEO, Jordan Wilhelm - and surrounded as I am daily by high performing, dedicated female leaders, I have been wondering why this the ownership or senior executive seat is still highly gendered. A few days ago, I somewhat randomly came across an older article from Harvard Business Review, which made me even more puzzled! Drawing on a research project by Korn Ferry and interviewing 57 female CEOs to crack the code of how these women achieved C-suite positions. They made some extremely interesting observations:
“Drive in high-achieving women manifests differently from the top-performing, predominantly male CEO benchmark group, despite their capabilities showing as almost identical on other fronts.
... female CEOs were comparably motivated by collaborating with other people, taking on more responsibility, power, and scope (…).
Ambitious women may be hesitant to self-promote, driven more by a sense of purpose and a desire to contribute value and shape culture.”
“(…) a combination of four traits and competencies emerged as key to their success: courage, risk-taking, resilience, and managing ambiguity”.
I read this to mean, top leaders who are also female tend to be driven by a sense of purpose and are focused on contributing more than “just” meeting goals and creating revenue. They do this by drawing on fundamental traits such as courage, ability to manage ambiguity and taking risks. To me, this sounds an awful lot like what you would need and expect from a "Chief-Anything-Officer” in the international security industry! This leaves me further puzzled and even more committed to exploring how the incredible talent and courage I see in the women who make programs happen can take their rightful seat at the leadership table.
Thankfully, one major insight from Korn Ferry aligns directly with TCM's vision to empower others and gives me confidence that TCM is on the right track by building an inclusive community meant to champion diverse expertise:
"Women harness the power of experts and teams...The women’s scores, combined with our interviews, demonstrate the ability to harness the power of others to achieve needed results, and the recognition that no one person defines the future of the company.
Anne Teppel serves as TCM's Director of Compliance and Performance
Prior to joining The Critical Mass Anne served as Head of Department (acting) at the Danish Ministry of Defense where she took part in shaping major policy initiatives while also contributing to the internal development of the ministry as an organization and of its leadership.
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