For many women in business, the road less traveled can lead to career achievement. Research recently conducted by Cigna [PDF] shows that many female business leaders have taken an unconventional career path, which ultimately yielded unexpected opportunities for success. In fact, an overwhelming majority of respondents (86 percent) credit their current position and advanced skillset to the non-traditional career changes they’ve made.
The Women in Leadership Study of 1,000 female business leaders across industries and geographies was commissioned by Cigna to examine their perspectives, better understand factors that made them successful and, importantly, share their insights with others. The results revealed critical success factors that may serve as a roadmap for future female leaders—a central part of Cigna’s commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion to drive innovation, engagement, and business growth.
“With nearly half of our leadership ranks comprising women, Cigna takes great pride in our diverse and talented workforce—and there is more work to do,” said Cindy Ryan, senior vice president, human resources. “An inclusive work environment enables innovation and creative problem-solving and allows everyone to realize their potential. By embracing diversity and inclusion, Cigna is better positioned to keep pace with the changing face of business and meet the needs of customers.”
The survey found that these leaders have been guided by a few common factors that go beyond the traditional path to career growth.
“When it comes to furthering their career, many women in leadership have bypassed the proverbial career ‘ladder’ in favor of a less linear approach,” said Lisa Bacus, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Cigna. “While every individual’s path is different, allowing yourself the latitude to pursue new roles, unexpected opportunities, and mentor others along the way has been shown to unlock even greater potential for a rewarding and impactful career.”
Embrace the unexpected along your career journey. Respondents’ advice for the next generation of female leaders includes working outside your skill set (86 percent agree) and changing industries (86 percent agree). Furthermore, nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) female business leaders have made a nontraditional change, such as pursuing a less “glamorous” job.
Listen to yourself and be determined. The study revealed certain traits are important to the career success of almost all female leaders. These include adaptability (99 percent), determination (98 percent), and confidence (80 percent).
Trust in your strengths. 73 percent say knowing your strengths is the blueprint for career success, followed by knowing your self-worth (63 percent) and having the courage to speak up (62 percent).
Seek and give mentorship. 70 percent say their success was made possible by the mentorship of other female leaders and 76 percent of women leaders currently mentor at least one woman.
An important finding for any business that seeks long-term success is that 86 percent of respondents say that working in an environment that is inclusive and values diversity is important for the female leaders of tomorrow.
“Teams that are more diverse drive business growth,” said Bacus, “so I want our colleagues to bring their unique perspective to work and encourage others to do the same.”