With everyone around her working 80 hours a week, a younger Charlotte McLaughlin routinely did the same.

"I wanted to be the best," she says.

But the mother of three ultimately reached a point where she realized that spending quality time with her children had to be the top priority. So she made changes at work, such as eliminating inconsequential meetings and delegating more, to make her time at the office more productive.

"Basically, I developed a lot of leadership skills from that inflection point," she says.

McLaughlin, now president and CEO of the capital markets business at PNC Financial Services, believes it was those skills-gained, ironically, from stepping back-that helped move her into senior management.

"There was an interesting effect from all of that. The people who work for me-my team-became more empowered and more engaged," she says.

"We sort of made a pact that we weren't going to miss any major events in our life, whether we had children or not, and that we were going to be there for each other. We still stayed all night to get a project done. You still did what you needed to do. But you made sure you were able to balance work and family."

What McLaughlin learned from that experience informs the advice she most wishes she could give to her younger self.

"You can't do everything perfectly. You have to pick and choose," she says. "I got burned out trying to do everything."

McLaughlin says she thinks burnout is one reason more women aren't making it to the top. And she regrets that many have come to expect a distressing degree of scrutiny from raising their profile. "You saw it with Hillary Clinton. You see it with every woman. They're under a microscope. In the pipeline, that scrutiny sometimes turns women away."

McLaughlin understands perhaps better than most the issues that female executives in the industry are facing. She is one of a handful of PNC executives who led a study to look into why senior women at her company consistently had lower engagement scores than the overall management group.

Working with an outside consultant, the group gathered candid feedback from senior women in various geographic areas. They examined the impact of unconscious biases, unintentionally negative actions by management and differences in style between men and women, in an effort to figure out why engagement was lower.

"We figured out ... that sometimes it was subtle things like not seeing a career path," McLaughlin says.

A contributing factor to this perception is, ironically, the fact that managers like to build bench strength. "Oftentimes there's a perception, at least among women, that candidates are being groomed [and that] they don't have a chance for that position," McLaughlin says. "So they're not speaking up and saying 'I think I can do that.'"

She also says women like to get very good at what they do, to the point of being almost indispensable, and often do not realize their skills are transferable to a different role. "So some of it is getting women more confident," she says. "They're not totally qualified, but from past experience, you can tell they can do it."

Succeeding at more senior levels, though, often requires developing a broader perspective. In the upper echelons of the corporate world, technical expertise matters less than executive presence and leadership skills like the ability to influence people.

"So what got you to that job in middle management might not be what gets you to the next step," McLaughlin says.

One of the solutions to emerge so far from the PNC study is the use of a detailed action plan to map a career path. The written plan outlines goals to pursue, development needs to be met-with metrics and a timeline-and challenges to overcome. It also addresses the need for women to find advocates who can help them navigate career challenges and progress.

Being an advocate for other women is one of McLaughlin's passions at PNC and in her role on four boards. In fact, she thinks the boardroom is the best hope for women to achieve job parity.

"The more women we can get on boards, the faster we'll see more women in senior management," she says. "And it's imperative, if you're a woman on a board, every time there's a senior position open you demand a diverse set of qualified applicants."

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