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Building and Growing Female Leaders

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"Ban Bossy"'s launch this past March certainly fired people up about women's place in corporate America. The general public seemed to jump on board with the message behind the movement to empower young women to be leaders, but it came with its share of naysayers. Many of the negative comments left on social media sited "rap music" and MTV's portrayal of women as sex objects as being the reasons why we do not see as many female executives. Let's get real here. It's not as if women have been executives through the ages, rap music happened, and now they are not. Up until the '50s, most women were homemakers and men worked in business. There has been a shift in our culture's view of women and making a change that significant takes time.

Though we have certainly come a long way, today's female executives are still facing unique hurdles. Schools and organizations are stepping up to the plate to address the major issues:

Resources
Professor Doan Winkel of Illinois State University is currently working with women executives across the United States to develop an entrepreneurial program that entices more female students. I spoke to him, and he told me that this idea evolved when he noticed that only around 10% of his students were female. "Hands down, the women are the 'better' students/participants," says Winkel. "They are more engaged, more motivated, asking more thoughtful questions, coming to see me after class. I wanted more of that kind of student." He interviewed hundreds of female CEOs, investors, and business leaders from all over the world to gain insight into how to reframe the University's entrepreneurial program so that it is more appealing and supportive towards women.

Role Models
The old adage "If you can't see it, you can't be it" certainly rings true for a lot of women. Not to say there aren't some women making some incredible innovations in business - Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Mary Barra of GM, and of course, Oprah. But there are far fewer female role models in major areas such as science, math, aerospace, and engineering.

"In the Los Angeles tech startup ecosystem, there are a few women role models and less than 20 percent of all events are attended by women in tech," says Founder of Women in Tech Network Marina Lee, when I interviewed her. "And in finance conferences, it's about 5 percent."

Women in Tech Network fosters the growth of entrepreneurial women in the tech industry. Ms. Lee is a strong advocate for helping other women expand their businesses, but was told by numerous investors that there aren't enough women entrepreneurs in Los Angeles to warrant them traveling out for a meeting. In response to that, Women in Tech Network decided to attract more female entrepreneurs and women in tech by creating a new networking platform that allows them to learn from other women who have achieved business success. It sold out immediately.

Networking
4.2 percent of women entrepreneurs are funded. "Women start businesses at three times the rate of men, but few of them grow past the $50 million mark," says Kerrie MacPherson, Ernst & Young LLP Principal and Executive Sponsor of Entrepreneurial Winning Women, when I talked to her about the topic. The reason? They lack the right networking.

Erst and Young is addressing the challenges women face in the workplace, implementing programs such Entrepreneurial Winning Women, a national competition and executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale and then helps them do it. Through networking and coaching with some of the top business minds in the country, these women entrepreneurs are able to bust through the glass ceiling and become big businesses.

Pretending there is not a difference between male and female executives (or simply blaming rap music) does not help empower women nor allow them to overcome the necessary roadblocks to achieve greater success. Organizations that understand this will be the catalyst for positive change.