In this blog post
Women in Leadership – Overcoming Barriers and Bias
Leadership is broadly understood to be the ability to lead, influence and guide others to achieve a goal or towards a common purpose. If we look at the statistics, we’ll find more men in leadership positions across most areas and industries. In corporates, as we go higher up the ladder, fewer women can be found. In the US, even though a record number of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2020, there are still nearly 13 companies run by a man for every company run by a woman.
Women are still under-represented in higher management positions in Corporates, Governments, among others. This proclamation is the collective view not only of social and organizational researchers but also of women who have managed to accumulate substantial experience as leaders. Even when there is no shortage of qualified women to fill the leadership roles, it emerges that a consensus prevails on societal and cultural outlooks that leaders are supposed to be male and women are still considered weak.
It has been established that women can help bring newer perspectives on the table. However, women’s growth across fields are hindered by various obstacles which are often above and beyond what men have to overcome. Why do men still outnumber women in the leadership positions? Why does the society still feel that women are weak and not eligible to climb up the ladder or have sufficient skillsets to fill leadership positions?
Barriers to Women Leadership
The competency requirements of leadership positions are still designed having only men in mind. The unique qualities and perspectives that women often bring to the table need to be recognized and given its due value.
Because men have held leadership positions for a long time, the usual leadership qualities are often thought of as masculine and not viewed as favourably when exhibited by women. Men still hesitate in offering women leadership positions and don’t often sponsors to champion their advancement.
Passive-aggressive work environments and understated biases are still obstacles for women. Minority women face even more obstacles along the way. As per McKinsey, “women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t moved significantly in the past three years”.
Work Life Balance
Balancing work and family can be a challenge that limits women from seeking leadership roles. Most workplaces are still designed keeping the archaic notions of gender roles in mind.
Another mostly invisible but significant barrier is also the way women are conditioned and forced into a box. To an extent where sometimes women try fitting into a role where she does not belong. What about a women’s individuality or dreams or passion? What is stopping her from coming out of the place where she does not belong. How will she overcome the barriers she is facing on a day-to-day basis in the current world legacy?
How to close the gaps in women empowerment and support women?
Examine your own biases. Are you a supporter of women around you? Do you mentor women to learn new things and break the barriers? Do you sponsor women? If you’re a woman, start the change from within and support the women around you and most importantly yourself!
Stand Up to Gender Bias when It Transpires. When you hear any comments or criticisms or a scrubbed aside opinion on gender inequality, bias, and weaknesses in women, you need to call them out. This is how you increase awareness of what gender bias looks and sounds like. This doesn’t not mean you are disrespecting or disobeying any colleagues or seniors, it’s an opportunity to help nudge others towards ideal conduct in the workplace.
What can Employers do?
Prioritize a diverse and inclusive workplace and take dedicated efforts in addressing biases. Widen recruitment networks and candidate pools. Employers need to offer more than just good pay – like employee training, development opportunities, good work/life balance and flexibility to empower women to excel in her career. And it’s flexibility that is particularly needed, especially as many women still remain the primary caregivers at home, so it is important that companies understand and respect the wide demands often placed on working women.
Even though it might be hard to see big changes soon, companies are taking enormous number of steps to remove gender bias in the workplace and encourage diversity for women leadership. Women leaders are critical for organizational success and companies that intentionally prioritize and plan for women’s leadership development gain from it. If we ever want to reach or get close to gender equality, we will need to work more diligently and consciously.
As gender norms continue to evolve and younger generations join the workforce, workplaces must adjust and evolve as well. Work should be safe and motivating for all irrespective of the genders. As women, we need to develop our own strategy to eliminate gender bias in the workplace and beyond to overcome all the barriers around us!