President and CEO | PNC Capital Markets

Charlotte McLaughlin has seen women make tremendous strides over her 40-year career in the financial services industry, but she remains frustrated by the lack of gender equality in top positions.

That's why McLaughlin has joined the 30% Club, an organization of top executives that is pushing for more women on boards and in senior leadership roles. One of its goals is for women to make up at least 30% of S&P 500 boards by 2020, up from 19% today.

The lack of women in C-suite roles is a particular problem, McLaughlin said, because it's in these highly visible jobs where women can be the most effective role models and sponsors of young talent.

She's also concerned about the number of women leaving the workforce midcareer and wants to see more employers show flexibility when dealing with those at a career inflection point — usually about four to seven years in. It is at that point when employees are past the initial learning curve and the most promising ones are being developed for promotion.

"For women it can be a challenging period to navigate and, at the same time, this inflection point often includes a myriad of personal and family changes," McLaughlin said. Though younger workers increasingly are demanding more flexibility, "acceptance of these concepts is still lacking, due to prevailing attitudes and culture."

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McLaughlin believes it is at this stage where women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion and take those first steps toward leadership. For that reason she tries to work with high performers to help drive their careers forward by directing them to roles that have a direct path to senior leadership.

She also advises younger women to have the courage to speak up when necessary, even if what they have to say might go against the status quo.

McLaughlin admits that early in her career she invested a lot of time in being liked.

"It took me a while to understand that being respected and getting the job done are what really brings the team together and both are critical qualities required to lead a business," McLaughlin said. "Gaining the support of my colleagues by instilling confidence that I will lead the team to success, even if it involves making uncomfortable or unpopular moves, builds a sense of authenticity and a stronger team."