Launching Women Into Leadership Through the Chief of Staff Role

vChief — Virtual Chief of Staff
4 min readJul 13, 2021

While many women took time off in the midst of the pandemic because of caretaking restraints, many will be returning to the workplace now that we’re digging out of the situation. One outcome of the pandemic was painfully clear: women deserve better support systems and flexible work models in order to thrive in their careers.

We hope that the collective experience of remote work will encourage more employers to offer flexible options that will allow them to balance competing priorities while building a successful career. In our focus on the chief of staff role, we’ve found it can help propel women into the highest levels of leadership. Women are often an incredibly good fit for the role, which provides them the opportunity to shine within the C-Suite and chart a path for success down the road.

A Good Fit

Women’s personality types tend to fit the chief of staff role very well — almost like they were made for each other. Here are just a few examples:

  • High EQ: Women tend to be more empathetic of those around them and are able to read a room quickly and accurately, an incredibly useful skill as a chief of staff. Women are also more adept at adjusting to transitions and leading calmly in times of crisis, making them an effective chief of staff.
  • Multitasking: The chief of staff role provides ample opportunity for “juggling,” whether it’s attending to various fire drill items all at once, dealing with competing priorities, or just generally taking on anything that the CEO or executive doesn’t have the bandwidth for. Have you ever watched a mom in action for more than five minutes? We were made for this.
  • Communication: Undoubtedly, women and men communicate differently. According to research presented in Forbes, women’s strengths lie in listening and reading body language and nonverbal cues. Chiefs of staff are often expected to communicate with various stakeholders in order to influence positive outcomes for the organization, so these communication skills come in handy.
  • Detail-oriented: Many women are experts at focusing on the details and creating systems of organization to keep them all straight. This is a key element of a chief of staff role.
  • Being the “second brain”: Since women are typically better listeners, more empathetic, and more aware of nonverbal cues, they are often more attuned to what’s happening above and beneath the surface, making them the ideal “second brain” of your organization.

Prepping for Leadership

While women continue to shatter glass ceilings and earn their rightful place in leadership roles, there is still much work to be done to achieve parity with men. We’d be remiss not to mention that the pandemic has taken down some of these gains as well (more on that later).

According to a McKinsey study on women in the workplace, at the beginning of 2020, the representation of women in corporate America was trending upwards, with the most pronounced gains in senior leadership. Between January 2015 and January 2020, representation in the C-suite grew from 17 to 21 percent. Women remained dramatically underrepresented — particularly women of color — but the numbers were slowly improving.

Likewise, during this period of time the chief of staff role has expanded its influence to the startup and entrepreneurial realms and the need for more qualified individuals continues to grow. A chief of staff role is an ideal starting block for women to gain a stronghold into the inner workings of an organization’s leadership. For many, the role is two years of prep work for the C-suite, a dynamic space where women can continue to build their career.

Here are a few notable chiefs who have moved on to leadership positions:

  • Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, was Larry Summers’ chief of staff when he was U.S. Treasury Secretary
  • Aileen Lee, head of Cowboy Ventures, a VC firm in Palo Alto, California, was chief of staff for Mickey Drexler when he ran The Gap.
  • Aretae Wyler, former chief of staff to Atlantic Media founder David Bradley, is now general counsel and chief administrative officer of the company.

Pandemic Pause

It’s no secret the pandemic has been especially challenging to women in the workplace, specifically those in active caretaker roles. The McKinsey study we referenced earlier cited as many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce due to challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis.

Learn more about how the pandemic created challenges for women in leadership roles? Head on over to vChief to read the complete article.

Madeleine Niebauer is the Founder & CEO of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service, which offers part-time and interim chief of staff support to start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes.



vChief — Virtual Chief of Staff

vChief provides interim and virtual chief of staff services designed to support executive leadership and maximize team productivity and growth.