New Study by Women’s Success Coaching Reveals Key to Gender Gap in the C-Suite

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Research shows organizations are wasting millions on gender diversity programs that aren’t giving women what they need to succeed.

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Lost Leaders in the Pipeline reveals ambition decreases, not because women want to stay home or not work anymore, but because of a lack of effective support over the span of their careers.

Countless studies have shown women to be great leaders who improve company performance. Organizations across a multitude of industries that have embraced the business case for increased gender diversity are spending millions of dollars on programs to help women advance. Yet we have not yet reached gender parity in the C-suite. Why?

A new study, released today by the coaching and consulting firm, Women’s Success Coaching, shines a light on the disconnect—these companies are losing future female leaders, because they don’t understand what the women want and need to be successful. Their assumptions have led them to design or choose programs that have had little impact on advancing women.

The study, Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women’s Ambition to Offset Future Leadership Shortage, by Bonnie Marcus, president of coaching and consulting organization Women’s Success Coaching, and Lisa Mainiero, professor of leadership and management at Fairfield University, surveyed 615 high-achieving women and offers a portrait of women’s ambitions along with the potential sabotages and challenges they face.

According to the study, a majority of the women (74%) self-identify as very or extremely ambitious. Yet their ambition begins to wane mid-career. Lost Leaders in the Pipeline reveals ambition decreases, not because women want to stay home or not work anymore, but because of a lack of effective support over the span of their careers.

“In order for companies to move their gender diversity initiatives forward, they must let go of assumptions about what ambitious women want and need and identify how they can support the women in their work environment,” explained Marcus. “Future leaders who have the ambition and skills to succeed are sitting right there and because companies fail to understand what these high potential women need to sustain and nurture their ambition, they are losing top talent every day.”

Based on their findings, Marcus and Mainiero suggest organizations need:

  •     Strong C-suite support for gender diversity along with programs. Survey respondents reported a lack of manager support diminishes their ambition and advancement.
  •     A custom assessment of what high potential women want and need for career support.
  •     Early career pathing before women have children in their thirties/early forties to build leadership experience on the line.
  •     Non-linear career paths where women can ramp on and off to facilitate family issues.
  •     Acceptance that a “work until you drop” attitude is not sustainable for women or men.

The leadership shortage is expected to crest in 2025. Rather than expend resources to attract and retain new female talent, the authors say, organizations need to adapt their gender diversity programs and reshape their corporate culture to leverage the leaders in their existing pipelines. The first step for any successful initiative is to ask the women what they need to sustain their ambition.

To read the full report, visit

About Bonnie Marcus and Women’s Success Coaching
Award winning entrepreneur and Forbes columnist, Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., assists professional women to successfully position and promote themselves to advance their careers, and consults with companies to retain and support their female talent. A popular keynote speaker, Marcus presents her research and addresses diversity issues at conferences and corporations. Her latest book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (Wiley, 2015), provides a road map for women to navigate the complexities of their workplace to get the promotion they deserve.

Marcus’s extensive business background includes CEO of a ServiceMaster company and VP of Sales at Medical Staffing Network, and two other national companies in the healthcare and software industries. To learn more, visit

About Lisa A. Mainiero
Lisa A. Mainiero, Ph.D., received her doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale University in 1983. Dr. Mainiero's latest book, co-authored with Sherry E. Sullivan, The Opt-Out Revolt: Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers (Davies-Black Publishers, 2006), describes contemporary trends in the career landscape for women and for men. She is a sought-after lecturer and consultant, with appearances on Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown. Dr. Mainiero has published several articles on executive women's careers, issues of power and politics, office romance, and crisis management strategies. She is a Full Professor of Management at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Whitney Heins
Weaving Influence
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