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The Six Steps You Can Take Today To Compete For The C-Suite

Written by: Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


What’s really keeping women out of the C-suite might surprise you, but every woman leader has the power to influence change starting today.

The numbers are depressing. Even with tremendous strides to promote gender equity in leadership we continue to see significant gaps. According to Forbes there are seven times more men than women executive officers and men outnumber women 17 to 1 in the CEO seat.

There is no denying that we’ve got a long way to go. The chasm can feel a little defeating. The efforts of most companies are just not enough. Women are losing out as they climb, with fewer women being promoted than men. McKinsey

So what’s it going to take to close the gap? We have to look at the problem from a different angle. The problem won’t be solved by adjusting hiring practices. The solution starts much earlier upstream.

When a C-suite position is vacated, most forward-thinking companies have already identified and developed the ideal internal candidate for that position. If they choose to go externally, they usually have a shortlist in mind. The truth is there are not as many women in that candidate pool.

We need to first look at what prevents women from getting promoted in mid-level positions, the ones where they will develop the skills to compete for the senior and executive roles.

The real barriers may not surprise you; they are the same barriers that existed 10 years ago.

Women’s ambition is often discouraged and misunderstood. Women face judgment when they seek to advance their career and maintain a fulfilling family life. And since women are far more likely to be the primary parent, homemaker, grocery shopper etc., they may hesitate to take on more responsibility.

Women undervalue their qualifications. They are less likely to apply for a job when they don’t meet every qualification even though they would be a competitive candidate. They will self select out of the process before we even get started. And even worse, women hide their doubts, isolating themselves from the support they need, for fear of appearing weak in a space where they are already the underdog.

Women learn to play it safe. Faced with adversity, bias and politics women learn to pick their battles and limit risk. This can be seen as tentative and less confident, effectively diminishing their potential to be considered for senior-level roles. They seek out further education in an effort to prove their worth. But they miss the opportunity to develop the executive and leadership skills that come with practical experience working through problems and conflict.

All of this makes for significant barriers to women climbing the corporate ladder.

This won’t change until we can support women on a deeper level, beyond basic leadership skills. Women deserve support to thrive in their early and mid-level leadership roles. They deserve the opportunity to work through the toughest challenges, where the greatest learning and growth happens. They deserve support to build a foundation of confidence in their own abilities.

So, if you’re a woman who wants to climb the corporate ladder and make an impact, start with these six steps.

1. Take imperfect action every day.

You may have learned to polish everything you do so that your leadership approach is always textbook. The logic is that if you do everything by the book it will pay off. The truth is this hardly ever works. You’ll get resentful and burnout before you’ll actually get promoted.

2. Stop being so nice.

Are you just going with the flow because it’s easier? Sometimes we don’t do the things we know we should for fear of being labeled complicated or difficult. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat occasionally, particularly if being nice has become your safety zone.

3. Take more risks.

Women tend to play it safe because we are afraid that we will risk the ladder rung we’ve worked so hard to achieve. But what’s really happening is that we are playing it safe, clinging to that rung, rather than climbing.

4. Speak up!

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Do it more often. Disagree respectfully, but in your own way. You won’t make friends with everyone, but you will earn respect from the right people. Executive leaders have their own ideas. Start flexing that muscle.

5. Set boundaries and don’t apologize for them.

Setting expectations with your teams and with your families goes far beyond managing your schedule. Consider where you spend your energy as well. Be clear about what you consider your priorities and stop making excuses for why you won’t do something. You don’t need to explain your priorities to everyone. Just own them.

6. Expect more.

In general, women accept less than we should. Most are paid less than the men in your role and we still don’t negotiate like we should. Ask for what you want: more money, a better parking spot, the right job title. The worst they can say is no, but you’ll be surprised how often they say yes. Fundamentally this comes down to how we feel about our own value. If you don’t believe in your value, you are less likely to ask for what you’re worth.

We are not going to close the gender gap quickly, but you can make progress in your career now. Step into your authority. Expect more from your companies and your peers. Use your savvy and your genius to navigate the road in your own way.

The problem is systemic.

The solution happens one woman at a time.

You’ve got this!

Book a free strategy call with Nicky at

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Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicky Espinosa is a leadership expert and executive coach specializing in supporting women executives to reach their full potential. She is a former healthcare executive, author and professional speaker with 20+ years of senior leadership experience. She is on a mission to close the gender gap in the C-suite by empowering women to confidently level the playing field.



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