The Washington Business Journal asked, “What is the one thing that must change for more women to get promoted to leadership roles in organizations?”

Like you (and me, frankly… there’s a reason I study this stuff!), the Journal wants some simple answers to the question. Before we dive into what can be done, let’s look at why women aren’t getting promoted

The most simple answer has to do with a set of values and beliefs that are held by the vast majority of women and men in the workforce. These beliefs are a set of story lines around what we as a society think women are capable of achieving, both from a practical and emotional perspective. 

Perfectionism Thwarts Women’s Growth

Women struggle a great deal more with the impostor syndrome then men, which is one reason they’re less likely to put their name forward. One critical change that can begin right now is to change the way we talk to ourselves (and to each other) about what’s possible for women.  

From an inside out perspective, the one thing that must change is the way women talk to themselves about how they’re currently doing, and what’s possible. This requires an increase in awareness around self-talk. Once women are aware of what the voice inside our head (the one that just said, “what voice?”) is telling us… about us, we can question it. Without awareness, the old storylines will continue to delude us from seeing our value and allowing us to step into opportunities.  

Is Your Language And Your Team Values Empowering Of Women?

From an outside in perspective, the one thing that must change is the way we talk to and about women in leadership. Men and women can be a part of the solution by helping women see and own their worth. By challenging women to step up, put their name in the hat, ask for the opportunity, and then supporting them in achieving success, we chip away at the old societal story lines about women versus men’s role in the workforce. 

Just yesterday I had two coaching sessions with remarkably well-accomplished women… both of them wanting to step into that next level of success, and both brought to tears as they heard their self-talk (I mirrored it back to them). Because they were able to hear and feel their self-talk, they could question it. Left to our own devices, it’s difficult to see how we’re getting in our own way.  

How Companies Can Help Women Advance

The one thing that must change to make workplaces more inclusive is awareness and intentionality, from the top down, around company values and cultural permissions. When executives take an honest look at their current results (are women putting their name in the hat for a promotion, and are they getting promoted, as an example) of their values, they can make changes. 

Taking an honest look in the mirror is rarely easy, but it’s always valuable. And, frankly, it’s the only way to change. What we cannot see will rule. What we’re willing to see, we can address… through candid, compassionate conversations.

How are you helping women rise inside your organization and communities?

Here’s to your greatness, 

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders have difficult conversations for more than 15 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Help your team reach its highest potential at