How Pittsburgh’s Susan McGalla Paved the Way for Women in Leadership


Statistics show that businesses with gender-diversity are 15% more likely to outperform companies, while ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely than companies that are not diverse. It is believed that these companies are able to outperform because they are open to new ideas. The diversity in their workplace brings multiple perspectives. However, even with statistics like these, only a small percentage of C-level positions in S&P 500 companies are held by women.

A Success Story

There are many women that struggle to reach high level positions within organizations. Then, there are women like Susan McGalla, who have helped lead the way for women leaders. McGalla credits how she was raised for her level of comfort in working with both men and women. Growing up with two brothers and a football coach dad, Susan was not given any breaks as a child because she was a girl. She had to work for what she wanted. She carried this lesson forward in life and has been incredibly successful, holding multiple high level positions.

McGalla worked her way up through the ranks of American Eagle Outfitters. When she started all the executives in the company were men. Before exiting the company she became the president. She founded P3 Executive Consulting, and now holds the position of Vice President of Business Strategy and Creative Development for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This industry is dominated by men, which is no surprise. She was part of the innovative “wear what we wear” campaign to encourage fans to purchase Steeler gear. McGalla took confidence with her into the workplace and started in a company that was willing to give her a shot and continue to allow her to move up the rank as she earned the position.

Women Leadership Initiatives Aren’t the Answer

While Susan McGalla’s success is encouraging, not all women are finding these opportunities. The glass ceiling problem is not a new one, and it is one that women have been addressing for years. There is no shortage of networks and initiatives for women. These groups work to provide women leaders with support and allow them to share ideas together. They provide women with a platform to strategize and plan for their businesses, and make connections with other women in their industry. As well as learn the latest trends in business.

Women’s networks and initiatives have worked hard over the years to make a change. They have worked to show that women are just as capable of working in executive positions as men. They provide opportunities for women to stand out in the business world, and to stand in support of each other.

The problem is, these initiatives have been unable to address the underlying issue that is stopping change from happening. It is important for women to have the support of other women in business. However, women fill only a quarter of senior roles in companies around the world. That means that men still hold the vast majority of power in businesses around the world. If women’s initiatives were the solution to the problem, the difference in the number of male and women executives would be drastically reduced by now. Meaning, we are still missing the real solution.

How Executive Sponsorship Can Help

One solution that can help break the gender discrimination cycle within organizations, is to create sponsorship opportunities. Women that are highly invested in their careers should find a decision making executive to serve as a sponsor. The sponsor can work with women to help create opportunities. They would recommend women to lead projects or work on important assignments. In a sense, the sponsor would be an advocate for the women. They would stand in her corner when projects are assigned and roles filled within the company. Which would help other women leaders move up in organizations the way McGalla was able to.

Executive sponsors would be provided with an incentive to motivate them to invest in women leaders. This will encourage male executives to come alongside of serious businesswomen to help them find the executive roles they are looking for. Mentorship and sponsorship within organizations can be the key that we have been looking for to become more gender-diverse. Every business should work to make a change since statistics prove that these companies outperform others.