The employment landscape is rapidly evolving. According to the World Economic Forum 2016 Future of Jobs report, a staggering 65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately work in a new career that does not currently exist. In addition, 47 percent of jobs in the United States are subject to computerization.

The Good News: This presents an incredible opportunity for innovation.

The Bad News: The industries with the fastest job growth have the lowest representation of women.

Late last month, InvestmentNews and the Investment Program Association hosted a Women’s Initiative Forum in New York City addressing key issues and opportunities for women in the financial services industry. The event consisted of four sessions featuring 11 powerful, successful industry leaders who provided a fresh perspective on gender parity in the workplace and actionable ways in which businesses and individuals can position themselves to enable more women to thrive.

My three takeaways from the event:

  • Align the business imperative around the holistic needs of women. Mercer Consulting engaged in an in-depth study on the root causes of gender parity in the workplace and has developed an expertise in advising companies on how to meet their gender goals (dubbed #whenwomenthrive). Their research shows that corporations need to align their business imperatives with the holistic needs of women to attract and retain female talent through several key steps:
    1. Diagnose the cause of the gender gap;
    2. Engage with employees to empower passionate leaders and encourage personal commitment to talent development;
    3. Implement the right practices, programs and processes for women to succeed;
    4. Consistently measure and refine these practices to ensure the right advocates, culture, accountability and infrastructure are in place to meet the corporate goal. 
  • Female leadership should be implemented from the top down. State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), the creator of the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street and a key advocate for increased female representation on boards, is raising awareness of the need to improve gender diversity in corporate leadership roles. Based on their research, there is a 36 percent increase in return on equity for companies with strong female leadership, while 25 percent of Russell 3000 companies still lack female representation. To effect change, SSGA is leveraging its position as a top shareholder of many publicly traded companies with its Active Stewardship program, through which the firm engages in dialogue and uses proxy voting to help elect more women to corporate boards. 
  • Identify a sponsor to help you reach the top. For women with aspirations of reaching the highest ranks of a corporation, the most encouraging session of the day was a panel featuring four CEOs and managing directors at financial institutions. When asked how they managed to land the top role at their respective firms, each panelist revealed that they had a sponsor, someone who advocated for their knowledge and work ethic and was instrumental in their success. If you are looking for someone to act as your advocate, remember that the best sponsors are formed organically, rather than through an organized mentorship program.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take chances. Each woman identified at least one, if not several, instances in their career when they were asked to take a role outside of their comfort zone. In hindsight, these pivotal moments were the most formative in each executive’s career path. The lesson was to take a chance on something new; you are bound to learn and grow from the experience.

Lauren Tarola is a senior account supervisor, Financial Communications & Special Situations, Edelman New York.