9 ways women are using peer advisory groups to close gaps in the C-suite
You have come to a crossroads in your career and want to find a confidential place where you can learn, share, and grow your career or business. It takes the support of an experienced team — a peer advisory group — from outside your business to push you higher and further on your leadership journey.
Peer advisory groups can be a sounding board for executives where business leaders from various industries and backgrounds come together to troubleshoot issues, share best practices, and receive and offer unbiased feedback with an experienced mentor leading the charge.
“It’s a little lonely in those corner offices,” says Christina Russell, president of Radiance Holdings, a Denver, Colorado-based collection of premier brands in the beauty, wellness and self-care sector. She joined a Vistage peer advisory group in 2015 while making a big career transition. Before Vistage, she noted she struggled to find connection and support.
“I was stepping into my first corner office position and simultaneously found out I was pregnant,” says Russell, a 2023 Member Excellence Award winner. I knew I needed access to people I could talk to confidentially, be vulnerable with and get advice.”
Peer advisory groups can provide the support and insight necessary to help female executives grow as leaders and navigate challenging situations.
While the pandemic was a pivotal moment for every business leader, Mona Veish was on the front lines as CEO of NuWest Group Holdings LLC, a health-care staffing agency in Bellevue, Washington.
“I was receiving press engagements from every single person you could imagine. A lot of it was happening during the Vistage session I was in,” says Veish, a 2023 Member Excellence Award winner. “The community helped me get a lot of opinions so I could quickly aggregate my decisions on which press engagements to take and which ones to pass on so I could quickly execute on it.”
Before joining Vistage in 2010, Patty Leuchten explored a variety of peer advisory groups because she was “hungry for practical advice” about taking her business to the next level. She joined Vistage in 2009 to find that critical information.
“I sold my business at a time when 2, 3 or 4 people in my group were going through the process of selling their business. That informed how I handled my transaction,” says Leuchten, a 2023 Member Excellence Award winner. “It was successful, and I credit that to being part of the Vistage group.”
Today, as CEO of her second company, Diligent Pharma, a life sciences technology firm based in Princeton, New Jersey, Leuchten says a peer group is essential at any stage of the journey.
“You have to be intentional about your approach and disciplined around pulling back the lens and thinking about the bigger picture,” she says. “A peer advisory group helps you to hone your vision and strategic direction and to gain clarity on how the decisions you make today impact the future of the business and your career.”
Is it worth it for female executives to join a peer advisory board?
Joining a peer advisory group requires an investment of time and a commitment to being vulnerable.
At first, Veish was specifically looking for a business community of women because she was a new mom. Many of the women in her network also recently had newborns but chose to take a step back in their careers while Veish continued to advance in hers.
“I was looking for a peer group of businesswomen that were in the same life stage as I was in,” she says. “I ended up finding that I didn’t actually need a female group of business leaders. I just needed a group of business leaders. I found that the problems were the same [across genders], and it was valuable having a great support system while going through that transition.”
Leuchten similarly believes the most valuable peer groups include men, women, and people from different ethnic backgrounds and leadership styles, noting: “I don’t think of myself as a ‘woman CEO.’ I am just a CEO/business owner with similar challenges to other business owners. Both men and women deal with work-life balance, juggling personal and professional commitments, driving a positive culture, staying well and healthy despite their demanding jobs, etc. I think the best peer groups are diverse.”
Russell, Veish and Leuchten agree peer advisory groups are a game-changer for female executives who want to accelerate both personal and business growth. Plus, employees will benefit as your leadership skills and business acumen continue to grow.
9 reasons why a peer advisory group might be a good fit
Chances are, you’ll find other members share similar challenges, and hearing their approach to overcoming obstacles can provide new ways of tackling what’s in your path.
Peer advisory groups can offer invaluable opportunities for networking, knowledge sharing and collaborative problem-solving that often lead to personal growth and business success.
These are 9 reasons why you might want to join a peer advisory group.
1. Gain insight and perspective from accomplished leaders
“I craved insights into other businesses so that I could help NuWest even further by taking best practices from other organizations or places,” Veish says. “Growth comes from diversity and innovation, and if you’re in one place for a long time, you can get stuck in your way of thinking. A peer community can help break that and expose you to new ways of doing things.”
2. Find inspiration from peers, CEO coaches and experts
Leading people and teams can quickly become consumed by immediate concerns rather than the bigger picture.
Whether it’s the urgency of hiring for a critical position, launching a new product, cost-cutting measures, or pursuing incremental growth, taking a break from day-to-day operations allows leaders space to step back and concentrate on key strategic decisions.
“We all have similar challenges when it comes to driving a positive culture, implementing strategies for catalyzing sales and striking the right balance of investment and conserving on spending,” Leuchten says. “Brainstorming around other people’s challenges creates confidence and helps you learn a lot about yourself and your capabilities.”
3. Find a community of women leaders
Female executives can face unique challenges and being part of a group that can relate to those challenges creates a supportive and empowering community.
Strict confidentiality means women can openly discuss their experiences, share strategies for overcoming obstacles and collectively work towards breaking down barriers in their respective industries.
4. Help develop tomorrow’s leaders
The benefits of peer advisory groups provide a platform for female executives to hone their leadership skills and offer insights into developing employees into future leaders within the company or the industry at large.
5. Make a greater impact
Having a diverse network of experienced peers who offer fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to complex challenges fosters personal growth, enhances decision-making, and empowers female executives with the knowledge and support needed to drive meaningful change and achieve their goals more effectively.
“With my second business [Diligent Pharma], we’re pursuing something quite complex and that will have a big impact on the space we’re working in and the potential for a societal change,” Leuchten says. “It is really helpful to be part of a peer advisory group because I look for analogous situations from other group members so we can move faster. If you have a company driving an innovation where you’re on the leading edge, being part of a peer group is essential.”
6. Fast-track learning
Access to an exponentially expanded knowledge base is one of the most powerful benefits of peer groups. Tapping into the collective wisdom and experience can encourage leaders to think outside the box.
When CEOs intentionally seek opportunities to learn from others with diverse backgrounds and experiences, it provides new ways of thinking that can accelerate growth and new opportunities.
7. Informal board of directors
There’s no shortage of hard decisions facing business leaders. Having an informal board of directors who are there to support you — and call “B.S.” when you need it without judgment — is incredibly valuable in deciding on a path forward, adds Russell.
8. Diverse perspectives
Seeking out diverse perspectives can provide a fresh perspective on your personal or business growth. Receiving input from CEOs beyond their organization and sector enables leaders to openly discuss challenges and obtain candid, impartial and unbiased feedback.
“I was a new mom and my career was advancing quickly,” Veish says. “So, I was looking for a peer group of businesswomen in the same life stage. I found that I just needed a group of business leaders, men and women, who had been confronted with the same challenges.”
9. Positive peer pressure
Sometimes all executives need a nudge to move forward on a decision. A peer advisory group encourages individuals to push their boundaries and stay accountable for achieving stated goals.
“If you are considering getting into a group like this, prepare to be your authentic self,” Russell says. “The only way to benefit is if you’re willing to bring your whole self to a meeting.”
Find the peer group that meets your needs
Not all peer advisory groups are created equal. You need to find one that meets your needs and offers the resources to push you forward on your leadership journey. Vistage leaders know how to step up and help one another on their ascent to the top.
One-on-one coaching with a dedicated CEO coach who has been in your shoes and a group dynamic with diverse leaders from other industries can help CEOs become better leaders, make better decisions deliver better outcomes.