In March, the WBC Staffing Council, a workstream within the Women Business Collaborative, published the results of the staffing industry’s first diversity survey. Published in partnership with the American Staffing Association, National Association of Professional Staffing, Staffing Industry Analysts and the TechServe Alliance, the survey found that, despite the fact that our industry employs women at a higher rate than others, less than 20% of staffing agency executives are women.

Meanwhile, female executives produce significant and positive value for their firms. A recent S&P Global study found that, in the two years after appointment, female CEOs in the Russell 3000 delivered stock price momentum 20% higher than their male counterparts. Firms with a high gender diversity on their board of directors were also more profitable than firms with low gender diversity. Yet, in staffing, there are so few of us at that table. The industry must find solutions to prevent the attrition — and foster the growth — of our female talent. If we’re not even in the last leg of the race, we simply can’t win.

Having it all. After such a trying year, it seems women themselves are contemplating why we are so often successful sprinters yet seldom winners of the metaphorical marathon. Success for myself, and for many of my female colleagues, has required both a willingness to take risks and the determination to find a way to make “it” all work. Women can “have it all” but that looks different for each of us — and the only commonality I find is that success at the management level for female executives usually looks unconventional. My advice is to embrace the unconventional, personally and professionally. As long as it works, that is all that matters.

Staffing firms and working women alike stand to benefit from creating environments that support the advancement of female talent to the higher ranks. To improve the statistics, employers must abandon inflexible models and find creative ways to attract and retain women while rewarding their significant contributions with promotions and increased responsibility. In addition, women must make the brave decision early on in their careers to run cross country. In other words, don’t simply run the races as they come, but plan the longer course. Build endurance, make choices that put you outside of your comfort zone, and motivate yourself to push hard toward the finish line even though you can’t see it. And, if you want to win, a cheering section can really make all the difference. Support at home and at work is important. If you don’t have it in either place, find it.

Walking the talk. At Volt, 70% of our in-house employee population is female, women comprise 68% of our executive leadership team and 33% of our public company board is female. We have fostered a culture of high-performing women and our company’s improved results are due, in part, to women in leadership being able to get better performance from their teams, making bold strategic moves and delivering better service faster to our clients.

I believe that the keys to becoming a successful executive transcend gender: You must hold yourself to high standards, rise to every challenge and opportunity, exhibit persistent determination, and above all, be willing to take risks. Yet it takes a courageous woman to make the life decisions to put herself in the position to be able to capitalize on opportunities as they arise, and take the necessary risks. At the same time, only firms that recognize the need to rethink the traditional track and instead provide rewarding, flexible work environments for women will reap the full benefits of their contributions.

We must identify and foster talent early, provide the right work/life balance, offer opportunities for P&L responsibility, and encourage risk-taking by women in the same manner as is allowed for men (and permit them to fail without penalty at the same rate). If we can do our part, more women will bring their authentic selves to the workplace, will put in the time to train hard, and will ultimately have the confidence and stamina to win the race.