Karyl Innis, CEO The Innis Company & Director Emeritus IWF Leadership Foundation
Karyl Innis is a career expert, she knows why successful people succeed and when they don’t how to help them. She is well known for helping executives around the world reinvent their personal brands in ways that accelerate their careers. Karyl is the CEO and Founder of The Innis Company headquartered in Dallas Texas. She is a business leader, author and commentator with an eye for talent and the ability to accelerate the growth of senior leaders. Karyl has been on the IWF Foundation Board for many years, teaches in the IWF Fellows program each year and is also on the IWF Dallas Board of Directors. You can reach Karyl at email@example.com.
I started my first professional job and the next day I was told I was a mistake.
It seems my first name is spelled funny and is misleading. My first name, Karyl, was mistaken for Karl, a decidedly more masculine name than my own. This fictitious man named Karl “qualified” for 40% more in starting salary than me…a woman named Karyl.
My new boss thought it was funny and made sure that I kept the job and the 40% “windfall” set aside for Karl. He also remained my sponsor for years. I learned the value of having a supporter, an active advocate, a sponsor from my first day on the job.
I spoke at a client’s business conference earlier this week. After my keynote three things happened:
During the Q&A session, a woman stood up and asked “Why do men still get more promotions than women?”
A direct question deserved a direct answer. I said, “it’s not because men are smarter than you, nor more committed or that they work harder. It’s largely because they have access to more and better sponsors.”
I did define my viewpoint of a better sponsor. I believe that better sponsors are those who not only are active advocates but those who also have the authority to make things happen. Things like who gets which job and who gets which plum assignment are the kinds of things sponsors can weigh in on. For more than 30 years, we women have been 50% (or more) of college graduates and we enter the world of work at roughly the same rate. We all know the lagging statistics of women vs. men in key leadership positions. At the top of the pipeline, Catalyst research shows that women in the U.S. hold 51.5% of management roles but only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles. In Australia it’s 27.4%, 35.5% in Canada and in India only 2.5% of key leadership roles are held by women.
At the end of the day, people in the key positions are making the key decisions. What the statistics show us, is that on average, more men than women are at the table deciding who gets the job, the promotion and who is able access the higher ranks of leadership.
After I left the stage I saw the CEO. He seemed troubled and I stopped to talk with him. He said “Karyl, the women on this campus are wonderful; they are smart, they are dedicated. I don’t want them to think that they need a sponsor to get ahead here. They will be noticed.”
I actively agreed with him that being noticed is a key criterion. People do promote and support the people they notice. In this company women were being noticed when hired but noticed less often as candidates for leadership during times of promotion. The internal statistics showed that women were underrepresented in the company’s leadership ranks and over represented in their entry level roles.
I disagreed with him on the prospects of women succeeding by waiting to be noticed. We agreed to talk more next week.
As I walked toward the door, Sara stopped me. A 25-year old, with three years’ experience, she is thrilled to be working at this company and loves her team. Her original teammates had all moved on; one hired away by another company, one promoted, one transferred to a higher profile project. The original three team members were men who have been replaced with three new, entry level employees. Sara likes being the “senior” member of her team. She was quick to say she had not experienced any discrimination but did ask, “What should I do to be able to move up & be noticed?”
We talked about some specific things she might do and agreed to talk again.
While I listened to Sara, I remembered the surprising outcomes of social psychologist Faye Crosby’s research. She found that most women are unaware of having personally been affected by gender bias and deny that it has happened to them…even when it is objectively true. The findings also showed that in general women feel that while they haven’t personally experienced gender bias, most of their female counterparts have encountered it.
The overt forms of bias I encountered when I entered the workforce were really easy to spot and they were illegal. In 1964, Title 7 of the United States Civil Rights Act made that so. The majority of today’s barriers are different. There are of course still circumstances of overt bias – true misogyny, sexual harassment and women of color can face multiplying factors of sexism and racism. However, after five decades of women moving into and leading in the workforce – en masse – today’s barriers are almost invisible.
Today’s barriers to leadership for women include everything from:
- being nudged to staff roles rather than line roles,
- being placed in positions without budget P&L responsibilities,
- being locked out of networks and activities where other male leaders meet,
- having gendered networks composed mostly of other women,
- having fewer women leaders as role models and
- having fewer women in high enough positions to be effective sponsors for women and men. The result is that fewer women are noticed as leadership candidates by the people able to make the decision.
The word leader is gender neutral; neither male nor female oriented. The word leadership is gender neutral as well. But for women, the pathway to leadership is anything but gender neutral. The rocks along the way for women aiming for leadership are sharp, pointy and plentiful. This is why I am a member of the International Women’s Forum. It’s an organization of preeminent women around the world that provides a network of friendship, support and opportunity. Our members are women who can use their influence to help other women get noticed, get access, get training and reach the next level of their professional journey. We all have networks. The question is – is yours working for you?
Here are 5 things you can do today no matter what level you are in your professional career:
- Use your position and experience to further the business connections and networks for the women you know.
- Build your own network with unexpected additions…include women and men, workers older and younger than yourself and reach beyond your current sector.
- Actively sponsor existing women leaders to provide introductions, access to business opportunities and make it a priority in the way you lead your business.
- Interrupt & recognize bias when you see it and hear it.
- Remember, it’s not enough to be noticed. That means you have to not only find your voice, you have to use it.