In the United States, women hold 19.2 percent of S&P board seats.

A lot of people think this is a little odd, and there is increasing pressure on corporations to come closer to balancing that top-tier percentage.

Rather than focusing too much on the top layer, I think corporate leadership will have more success if they look at what can be done at the layers underneath.

Here’s what I would recommend to corporate leaders looking to boost female representation at the top:

Start with the foundation. Ask yourself why increasing women leaders is important to your company. Unless you really buy-in to a reason as to why this goal is important, it’s not going to work. It’s sort of like eating better, getting more sleep, losing weight, or exercising more. You don’t do those things because someone tells you to do them. You don’t do them because you “know” they are good for you. You do them because you discover a foundational reason behind why you want to do them. Why do you want more women leaders?

If you have buy-in to the why, start looking into whether or not you are paying the women in your company the same as you are paying their male counterparts. If you are, good for you. You are pretty unusual. Most likely, you are paying them about 80 cents on the dollar. Pay them what they are worth.

In addition to adjusting pay scales as necessary, you could also watch your language. Don’t use words like abrasive in a performance review unless you would use that same word in the performance review of a male employee. Same with negative personality criticism. In this study, “negative personality criticism — watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! — shows up twice in 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.” If you tell that many women to step back, what do you expect? Take a hard look at the messages you are sending.

Now let’s consider the different age groups of your female employees. Take a look at those bright and talented female college grads you spent some time and effort hiring. Potentially, they could be the source of your future leaders. They might also be feeling a little intimidated. They might hold back from participating if they are in meetings or work groups where they are the minority. Holding back from voicing their ideas and opinions will put them behind. FROM THE START. Rather than telling them to watch what they say (see above), make a conscious effort to get them to speak up.

In addition to holding back from contributing ideas, a lack of confidence may lead women to underestimate their abilities. Typically women apply for promotions only when they feel 100% qualified for the job. Men will apply if they feel 60% qualified for the job. Even if you think one of your female employees is qualified for a job, she might not think so. Go after her.

Typically, young college grads turn into young mothers. And then you really start to lose them. You now have big competition for their attentions. And it gets hard for them. Really hard. Unless they have an equal partner. Ha. Women spend more time on household activities and childcare while men spend more time on recreational activities and at work. If men spend more time at work, of course they stand a better chance of advancing further and faster. This is a really hard one for companies to tackle. But the latest popular theory is that employee engagement trumps pay raises, promotions, and even work/life balance when it comes to retaining employees. Dig down deep to find out what engages these young women.

Young mothers turn into old mothers. AND YOU THINK THINGS GET EASIER? Think again. This is the point I was at in my career. When I finally determined the rewards I was getting from my job weren’t enough to continue putting up with the stress of meeting obligations both at work and at home. As an experienced employee, I tried to find something that I found rewarding and engaging. I probably could have tried harder. But they could have too, if they had really wanted to retain my voice. Keep digging if you want to keep them.

Originally published at on May 3, 2015.

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