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This research paper focuses on the women leadership in the United States and worldwide. The paper addresses the leadership gender gap, the leadership styles between genders, challenges and barriers for women to advance into top leadership roles and future research to be conducted in this field. “The feminization of leaders is a significant development in our understanding and in the governance of global, political, economic and societal structures” (Adler, 1997). The number of women leaders in business organizations has more than doubled since the 1970s, however women are still underrepresented in managerial positions worldwide. The gender leadership gap is huge and women’s representation in leadership will not increase substantially without major changes in culture and policies of the organizations where women work.
“Feminization of global leadership refers to spread of traits and qualities generally associated with women to the process of leading organizations with worldwide influence” (Mendenhall et al, 2001). For the sole reason that men have held most leadership positions in the society for a longtime, the concept of leadership has been instilled with stereotypically masculine traits such as assertive, aggressive, dominant, competitive etc. Leadership is not inherently masculine. Researchers have found no gender differences in leadership effectiveness when they studied the essential ingredients of leadership.
In the last five decades, women have made significant advances in attainment of education and increased labor force participation. There have been women leaders throughout history and they are found in every culture and era. However, in almost all circumstances, male leaders greatly outnumbered female leaders.
Leadership has been predominantly a male right in corporate, military, politics and other sectors of industry and society. Although in recent years women have gained increased access to middle management positions, it is rare to see women as top leaders and executives. Women are under-represented in executive leadership positions in American corporations (Cook & Glass, 2014). The most commonly cited reason for the above phenomenon is the ‘glass ceiling’. It refers to unseen barriers that prevents women from progressing beyond a certain level in the corporate hierarchy.
According to Pew Research Center, In the United States, in the first quarter of 2017, there are 27 women heading major firms that is 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women (Brown, 2017). General Motors is the largest company with a female CEO. In 1995, no female CEOs were on the Fortune 500 list. The number of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled from 9.6 percent in 1995 to 20.2% in 20163. “In 2017, 21 women serve in the U.S. Senate and 83 serve in the House of Representatives, comprising 19.4% of Congress” (Brown, 2017). This representation of women is “nine times higher that it was in 1965, however it remains well below then 51.4 percent of women in the overall U.S. adult population” (Brown, 2017). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015, the number of women participating in the global labor force has increased by 250 million since 2006, however the global pay for women now equals what men were earning in 2006.
According to the McKinsey’s 2012 report, the board representation is highest in Norway (40 percent) and their law requires publicly-held companies to have at least 40% female board participation and lowest was in Japan (2 percent). The case for Asian, Black and Hispanic women is that only less than 3 percent of board directors at Fortune 500 companies are women from these groups. The proportion of senior business positions held by women globally is 24 percent. According to Catalyst (2014), Asian, Black and Hispanic women make up 17 percent of workers in S&P 500 companies lesser than 4 percent of executive officials and managers.
Leadership style and Gender
“Women who have broken the glass ceiling and progressed to the top management have shown that using the command and control style of managing others, a style often associated with men in large traditional organizations is not the only way to succeed” (Rosener, 1990). Men and women have distinctive leadership styles, with men more likely to view leadership as an outcome of transactions with others. Women on the other hand, are more transformational, using their interpersonal skills and hard work to motivate or transform their subordinates rather than applying positional power.
According to Rosener (1990) she referred to this style as “interactive leadership”, as women use their relational skills to encourage participation, influence others, share power and information and boosts subordinate’s self-esteem.
- Encourage participation: Rosener (1990) states that women leaders try to make people feel part of the organization. They also tend to encourage others to have a say in work aspects and get subordinates to participate and use a conversational style to make people feel at ease and invite people to get involved in tasks.
- Enhance self-esteem: Sharing information and encouraging people to participate makes employees feel important. Women leaders enhanced self-esteem of employees by giving praise and credit and by showing small signs of recognition6.
Eagly et al., (1990) states that women leaders tend to lead in a more democratic and participative style than the autocratic and directive style of men. Eagly et al., (1992) found that women leaders were less favorable than men in certain circumstances. Women leaders were marked down to their male counterparts in contexts where leadership was carried out in stereotypically masculine style. Also, the evaluation of women leadership was greater when leadership was male dominated and their evaluators were men. “Differing perceptions of women’s leadership effectiveness are based on socialization, gender stereotypes and confounding variables that do not adequately control for perceived power8”
Chandler (2011) mentions in her research about a leadership model developed by three McKinsey consultants in a five- year study. The study mentioned that in order for successful leadership to occur, women had to demonstrate the preconditions of talent, desire to lead, tolerance to change and to enact four characteristics:
- Understanding of their self-purpose, happiness and core strength
- Self-awareness required to view situations clearly
- Developing collaborative relationships
- Taking risk to move progress further
According to leadership research, women who pretend to mimic masculine behaviors will find herself to be at a great disadvantage. Additionally, when incongruity exists between women and leadership roles, this results in prejudice, which may contribute to the difficulty for women to become leaders and access growth and success.
“Role congruity theory is grounded in social role theory’s treatment of the content of gender roles and their importance in promoting sex differences in behavior”.
The findings of study by Eagly & Karau (2002) which successfully predicted that women leaders are less effective to the extent that leadership roles which are masculine oriented are as follows:
- Women became less effective to men as the number of male subordinates increased, reflecting on great approval for traditional gender roles
- Comparatively greater proportion of men among raters whose data showed measures of effectiveness
- Women were noticeably less effective in military organization, which is a predominantly male dominated environment.
- Lastly women scored well in effectiveness relative to men in middle level leadership positions as opposed to supervisory positions
Peus et al. (2014) conducted research to find the differences in leadership styles among women leaders in the US and Asia (China, India and Singapore). Their findings were that in USA, women leadership was branded by high level of individualism. Women leaders followed an individual vision combined with risk taking, continuous learning and finding the best organization to meet their goals. Women leaders in China has to strictly comply with organizational and societal values plays an important role in China. “Chinese managers described their leadership styles as facilitating their follower’s development in order to help them achieve their tasks and meet organizational goals”
Gender stereotypes in India still highlighted women’s roles as wife and mother, due to which many of them put their career second to their family. The women reported that they develop their subordinates in a way that they would become future leaders themselves, a nurturant-task leadership. Women in Singapore showed a combination of US and India or China leadership styles. Their leadership style was similar to the US, Singaporean female leaders placed a high emphasis on self-awareness and value orientation. They also gave high importance to developing and supporting their employees.
What is causing the leadership gap?
Cultural, organizational and policy barriers shape both women’s and men’s choices and opportunities. The underrepresentation of women in leadership has been seen as something is holding women back from becoming leaders. This phenomenon has been described as glass ceiling effect which is a barrier to women’s advancement from middle level management positions to leadership roles. Although women have opportunities in organizations to move up the ladder to become leaders, somehow those opportunities disappear at various points along the way. “Pipeline theory attributes the scarcity of women at the top to not having sufficient numbers of women in the pipeline to corporate power”16. Another view is that women managers do not have the necessary experience to be considered a qualified candidate for top positions.
Looking at the qualifications women earned, the pipeline has expanded significantly over the last century. Women earned more bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and more doctoral degrees than men and this trend is set to continue (U.S Department of Education, 2014). Major changes in women’s attainment of education and participation in workforce have given millions of women the necessary skillset they require to become leaders. This has also lead to women taking on roles that were reserved for men and providing organizations with a diverse pool of potential future leaders. Therefore, there is no real shortage of qualified and ambitious women.
A study by Kramer (2015) at McKinsey consulting showed that in 2012 women held 42 percent of entry level jobs, 28 percent of senior level roles and 16 percent C-suite positions. Compared to their similar study in 2015, they found that women held 45 percent of entry level jobs, 32 percent of senior level roles and 17 percent C-suite positions. Nothing much changed during 2012 and 2015. They also found that women in senior positions are 20 percent less likely to leave than men in the same position. According to the McKinsey report, “the expected representation of women is 15 percent lower than that of men”. This suggests that women face greater barriers to career advancements. Some points to note are:
- Women find the leadership path more stressful: McKinsey report states that as women climb the corporate ladder to reach senior levels, they lose interest. They cite stress and pressure as a major issue and not concern over family responsibilities.
- Women do feel comfortable with the workplace: The report also mentions that women are almost four times likely to think they have lesser opportunities to advance because of their gender. Compared to men, women are often consulted less on important decisions. This could be one the reasons why women progress at a lower rate than their male counterparts.
- Women do not take the roles that lead to the C-level positions: In most companies, once women reach the position of a Vice President, most women accept position focused on staff roles. However, most men hold line roles which eventually leads to the C-level positions. The line roles that most men hold are closer to the core operations of the company and indirectly prepares them for the top positions. The report states that “this disparity can impede women’s path to senior leadership”11.
- Women often network with other women and not with men in leadership roles: In general, both men and women agree that building connections and relationship with peers and senior management. According to the report, women tend to focus more om the widening the network female focused relationships and men also have and expand their male dominated networks. The reports states that “since men are more than likely to hold leadership positions, there is a higher possibility that women may end up with less access to senior level sponsorship”11.
- Women have to work a second job, the one at home: The study found that “women at every level are nine times more likely than men to say they do the major share of childcare and four times more likely to say do more chores”11.
Source: Annual reports of companies listed on each country’s main stock index; Italian data from Aliberti Governance Advisors; McKinsey analysis
Barsh et al., (2012) at McKinsey consulting conducted a study on the women representation on executive committees and corporate boards around the world. “Their findings were that women hold 15 percent of the seats on corporate boards and 14 percent of those on executive committees in the United States;16 percent and 3 percent in Germany; 20 percent and 8 percent in France; less than 10 percent on both boards and executive committees in China, India and Japan”12. The numbers are much higher in Norway which is 35% and 15% and Sweden at 25 percent and 21 percent respectively.
With reference to the exhibit by McKinsey shown above, it can be seen that the representation of women in all the countries decreases alarmingly at each senior management level11. Some female leaders move out of the pipeline as they find better jobs; others may draw back from promotions due to work – life commitments. However, a large number of them run into immovable barriers at key career progression stages. Our general understanding is that the hindrance to career advancement of women is a combination of lifestyle choices, structural obstacles and individual mind-set. Until recently, Barsh et al., (2012) found that men and women tend to evenly distributed in the staff and line roles in their early careers.
Challenges and Barriers faced by Women
Men are good with building networks which help them progress to senior level positions. On the other hand, women miss out on discussions with mentors or sponsors who might encourage them to stay in the line jobs. Also, line jobs tend to be filled with more pressure and limited flexibility which might not appeal to women who are planning on forming families. Some examples given by Barsh et al., (2012) are in the European financial sector, they found the turnover of women is severe by the time women reach middle level management. In Asia, except for China, the comparatively low overall rate of female participation in the workforce means it is harder to fill the pipeline at the start.
Some bias against women is subtle and illegal discrimination against women in the workplace remains an issue. Many companies still state a gender preference for some positions such as for a position of a receptionist. “In the past five years, about 30,000 cases of sex discrimination have resulted in a decision or settlement in favor of the person who filed the charge” (Hill, 2016). A lot of women’s experiences in the field of education, business and politics are deeply affected by sexual harassment. Research shows that it is the “perception of women and their judgement to their outsider status in a male-dominated workplace that serves as an obstacle to women’s progress into top management positions” (Erkut, 2005). The extreme shortage of women of color in top management continues to be a challenging part of diversifying leadership. “Role models for women of color are often lacking and the few women who break these barriers and move into new fields are viewed by other as representing their whole race”16.
Work- life balance is one of the most challenging obstacle for women progressing to or wanting to take up leadership positions. Women tend to be the primary parent caring for their children and other family members when they are in their peak years in the workforce. They are more likely to take up part time jobs and be in and out of employment due to family commitments and responsibilities more than men12. Women who do not have access to paid leave are more likely to quit after giving birth than those with paid leave. Men’s and women’s earning differences also contribute significantly to the leadership gap. “In 2013, among married opposite-sex couples in which both spouses were wage earners, husbands were paid more than wives 71 percent of the time” (Hill, 2016). Another point to noted is that men and women make these choices or decisions in the “context of cultural expectations, gender socialization and financial constraints” (Hill, 2016).
Organizational barrier refers to the differential hiring and promotion of men and women and these create a huge block preventing women from advancing to senior management. When the existing top-level management is dominated by men, they tend to promote other men who are similar to themselves. Another organizational barrier is concerned with the relationships women have with their bosses, mentor and other co-workers. Since there percentage of women is very less in executive management, many women are unable to find a female mentor. Most people prefer to have mentor of the same gender as in that way they tend to understand the challenges commonly faced by them. Globalization brings in new barriers for women, for instance, organization expansion would require top executives to relocate to other cities and countries. These would be a large barrier for women with families and other responsibilities13. Even if women move to different countries and locations to head departments, research shows that women have been unable to accept the culture shock and may not perform well in new environments. “Many countries will simply not deal with a women executive because of their beliefs and perceptions that women are incapable of doing business effectively” (Elmuti et al., 2009). Many women excel in middle level management; however, women tend to lose internal motivation due to many obstacles met in the path of becoming a manager or senior executive. Some of these obstacles include prejudice, family responsibilities, discrimination and lack of opportunities.
Stereotypes present a powerful obstacle for women. Stereotypes are a fixed view that categorizes people on the basis of gender, race or age. “A recent meta-analysis of gender and leader stereotypes found no evidence of decrease stereotyping over time” (Hill, 2016). Stereotypes about mothers negatively affect women pursing leadership roles as employers find them incompetent candidates for demanding jobs. “After becoming fathers, men see an average of 6 percent increase in earning even after controlling for factors such as hours worked and marital status, while new mothers see a 4 percent decrease per child” (Hill, 2016). “Stereotype threat is a phenomenon that occurs when a member of a group engages in an activity or performs a task for which a negative stereotype about one’s group exists”.
Research also suggests that this threat can lead one to underperform and imitate those stereotypical behaviors that they were trying to avoid. A number of research suggests that women are aware that leadership and gender roles stereotypes naturally favor men. Due to this awareness, women tend respond to this stereotype threat by adopting more masculine behaviors and communications styles to fit in. This has been detrimental to women leaders as they are rated as less warm by their subordinates and their subordinates are less willing to comply women leaders request compared with male leaders who make same requests.
“Unconscious or implicit bias occurs when a person consciously rejects stereotypes but still unconsciously makes evaluations based on stereotypes” (Hill, 2016). Research also suggests that women in particular show evidence of implicit bias against female bosses. Calipher (2014) research found that “women leaders view their gender as a strong factor in self-identity, which can lead to them experiencing greater stereotype threat”.
A deficit model is a version of internal barriers faced by women, which is the opposite of the view that leadership is a masculine trait. Deficit model specifically focuses on women’s deficits. According to this view, women were deficient in qualities of a leader, which held them back from top leadership positions. The traditional view is that women are not seen as having the necessary skills and attributes for leadership. “They are believed to be compliant, emotional and to have great difficulty in making choices” (Erkut, 2005). Other leadership suggests that gender bias is evident when the leadership behavior is evaluated unfairly when it is displayed by a woman than a man. Although women have overcome deficits in education and shown desire in leadership roles, they still have not made great progress.
Cook & Glass (2014) mentions in their research about three institutional-level theories that may shape women’s access to top level positions. Glass cliff is a phenomenon where women are more are appointed to top leadership positions than men in organizations that are in a crisis or at a high risk to fail. Ryan & Haslam, (1995) coined the term glass cliff and “they analysis revealed that women are over-represented on the boards of poorly performing firms”. “They found that companies that appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistent performance declines prior to appointment compared to firms that appointed men to their board”.
Research also suggests that male stereotypes played a key role in leadership selection for organization, whereas female stereotypes played key roles in leadership selection for organizations in crisis. Leadership research findings suggests that the glass cliff phenomenon will be more evident in companies with less diverse boards than with more diverse boards. In companies with diverse boards, there would be women in the leadership positions, therefore the likelihood of women experiencing a glass cliff in their rise to top management position will be less.
Second, saviour effect states that women will have significantly shorter tenures in senior leadership positions as women will be granted less of an opportunity to prove their leadership capabilities compared to men. In addition, women CEO’s of organizations experiencing poor growth are more than likely to be replaced by men. Cook & Glass (2014) states three reasons to suggest that women leaders face greater obstacles than men leaders:
- Promotion to high risk positions confirms biases against women’s capabilities should the firm continue with poor growth after their promotion.
- There is substantial evidence from research that there is implicit bias against women leaders in general, as women tend to be viewed as lacking the necessary skillset to lead an organization.
- “Women leaders are more likely than men leaders to suffer from token status, their leadership is more likely to be subject to intense scrutiny and negative evaluation bias” (Cook & Glass, 2014).
Third, institutional diversity – “a great deal of empirical evidence suggests that gender bias and in-group preferences shape hiring and promotion decisions in ways that tend to limit the occupational mobility of women” (Cook & Glass, 2014). In most companies, decision makers reserve leadership positions for in-group members as they feel more comfortable among members of the in-group and they also view these people as more vital to the organization. Over representation of men in leadership positions tend to produce gender biases and restrict women’s access to the top due to in-group preferences.
Research has identified two clusters of gender stereotypes: communal and agentic. Women are seen as having communal qualities which includes kindness, friendliness, and compassionate treatment of others, gentle and nurturing. In contrast, men are associated with agentic qualities, which include aggression, assertion, dominant, forceful and individualistic. “The agentic qualities are associated in people’s minds with effective leadership because of a long history of male domination of leadership roles” (Eagly & Carli, 2007). There is an issue of perceived lack of fit between the traits seen of women leaders and the traits required of successful leaders. Research suggests that women tend to find themselves in a dilemma, that is, if there are highly communal they get criticized for not being agentic enough and vice versa. Self-promotion which is an agentic behavior is detrimental to women as others view it as too dominant which eventually results in them likely to be selected for leadership roles than women who fail to self-promote. Female leaders find it difficult to foster an effective leadership style with a combination of communal qualities and agentic qualities needed to succeed. Compared to men, women are viewed as less able to control whether their emotions influence their thoughts and behaviors.
Gender-based stereotyping often gives the senior executives the perception of men and women leaders. This always tends to misrepresent the talents of women which hugely contributes to the gender gap in the U. S. This also poses a serious threat to women’s career progression. Research shows that men consider women to be less proficient at problem solving, this is one of the qualities associated with effective leadership. “Since men outnumber women in top management positions, the male held stereotypes dominates current corporate thinking and may contribute to the fact that although women hold more than one-half of all management and professional positions, they make up close to 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs”. According to the study by Catalyst, “unless organizations take steps to eradicate biases, women will forever be misjudged and undermined regardless of their talents or aptitudes”
Current Scenario of Women Leadership in Organizations
Many companies specifically in Europe and North America, are pursuing measures aimed at easing women’s progress through the organization. Some of the measures include work life balance initiatives such as greater flexibility in remote working, creating diversity targets, smooth transition into the work environment during and after maternity leave, executive coaching for high potential women managers11 . Barsh et al., (2012) interviewed 235 European countries and found that 60 percent of the companies had at least 20 diversity initiatives in place. In order to tackle the challenges, CEOs and top management must do much more to successfully transform gender performances and attitudes. This means there must be a dedicated team to monitor women in the talent pipeline from time they show potential to the point they are eligible to join the C-suite11. “Many CEOs are convinced that mixed boards and mixed executive teams perform better than those dominated by men” (Barsh et al., 2012). A personal passion is necessary to bring about a change in implementing gender diversity, for instance, it has to start with the CEO and his mind set and behavior. CEO’s who do not see gender diversity as a priority loses focus and delegates it down to others in the hierarchy. On the other hand, CEO who champion gender diversity, those organization are able to utilize the true potential of women leaders and provide them increase flexibility and necessary coaching and training to progress to C-suite.
Keeping track and managing the pipeline has to start by knowing the gender balance at every level of the organization by breaking down by business unit, levels and regions. Companies have to monitor metrics such as pay level, reason for women leaving the firm and how many women get promoted and how many are in the pipeline for promotion. According to research by Barsh et al., (2012), “only 18 percent of entry and mid-level women have a long -term eye on the C-suite, against 36 percent of men”. This shows that leaders should really mediate with talented female middle managers to coach them, build their confidence to advance in their careers. Barsh et al., also suggests 4 main priorities for leaders:
- Gender diversity should be treated as a strategic business initiative: Set a goal and plan that the company can monitor and follow up. If the high representation of women in the talent pipeline gives a competitive advantage then leaders will work hard to include them11.
- Establish a culture of sponsorship: encourage each top executive leader to sponsor two or three future leaders including women.
- “Ask for and talk about the data” (Barsh et al., 2012): Drill deep into the data and “discuss the percentage of talented women at each level of the pipeline, their odds of advancement versus men’s and the mix of women between line and staff jobs compared with that of their male counterparts” (Barsh et al., 2012).
- Create awareness of what a diverse environment looks like: Communicate to the people in town hall meetings about what you are doing to drive change. “Top leaders who work to encourage diversity across the company will increase everyone’s determination to bring the best to work” (Barsh et al., 2012).
Reverse mentoring is an important element in retention of women and their career advancement. This require senior leader’s commitment and support, they must also believe in its value for reverse mentoring to work. Through diversity and inclusion programs, “top companies teach women how to develop their personal brands, how to network even when unconscious bias is present, and how to get exposure at all levels of leadership to help advance their careers” (Weiss, 2015).
A major barrier to getting more women into top management is unconscious bias. Unconscious bias (implicit bias) occurs when we decisions without being aware of it. “Unconscious bias is not a US issue, in Latin America it is one of the strongest influences driving a lack of gender equality” (Women in Leadership: A Global Perspective, 2016).
Diversity training programs are not always done in the correct way and cause more harm than good. According to leadership research, structured free recall (“participants consider positive and negative attributes of a target before generalization”) and source monitoring (“focus on actual remembered judgements rather than gut feelings”) were most effective at reducing bias against women12. Many countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa have quota systems to set right gender imbalance in political leadership. “In Norway, adopted a quota system for very large companies, requiring 40 percent female representation on corporate boards”. Many diversity training initiates aim at raising awareness of ingrained bias.
For fair promotion of women and men of color, managers must be held accountable. “Job descriptions using gender neutral language have been shown to make a positive difference”12 . Role models can be powerful especially for women of color and lack of role models from the same ethic group can be a barrier to career progression.
Managers should shift their focus to measures of productivity rather than hours spent on work as the prime indicator of a person’s worth to the organization. Performance evaluation process should be designed to limit the decision maker’s conscious and unconscious biases. The recruitment process in the organization should be transparent and should not rely on informal social networks and referrals to fill positions. As women progress into positions of higher authority, they often find themselves in gender imbalanced groups. Friendly human resources practice such as flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, dependent care options and employer sponsored on-site child-care can help women stay in their jobs during the child rearing years and eventually compete for top positions .
There are huge benefits to have gender diversity in organizations. According to Pew Research Survey (2008),
- Women were rated superior to men in honest and intelligence. 2,250 adults (1,060 men and 1,190 women) were surveyed, half of the survey participants mentioned women as being more honest than men22.
- Women were also ranked higher for being compassionate (80 percent chose women /5 percent chose men), outgoing (47 percent chose women/ 38 percent chose men) and creative (62 percent chose women/ 11 percent chose men)22.
- Although women are rated highly on leadership traits, they still make a small percentage of the leaders in organizations and in public offices than men.22
American workers see female executives as being ethical and honest compared to male executives. Pew’s women and leadership survey (shown above) found that 31 percent said women are better at this and 3 percent said men are better.
A lot of research suggest that having female leaders as board members show higher financial performance than with those having low representation of women. “Companies that had majority of board members as women witnessed a substantial 87% better performance than their competition”
The policy makers can take the necessary steps to close gender gap.
- Take measures to tackle sex discrimination:
In order to solve the gender imbalance problem, organizations must take efforts to create an equitable workplace. “Enforcement agencies such as U.S Equal Employment Commission (EEOC) and U.S Department of Justice need adequate resources to enforce existing civil rights laws so that employers can get the technical assistance they need and employees can get meaningful access to the protections they deserve”.
- Improve leave policies
Many employers in the U.S do not provide guaranteed paid leave, paid time off for illness or family care5. Without these policies, family responsibilities can hinder women’s career and leadership opportunities. State and local policy makers can also pass laws to make this mandatory for all workers.
- Improve laws to protect pregnant workers:
Pregnancy should not be a barrier to women from pursuing her career. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to protect the health of pregnant workers and ensure that they are not forced out of their jobs or denied leadership opportunities”.
- Provide education program support for women seeking high-wage jobs:
Traditional jobs held by men tend to be in high-wage and high growth fields. Educational programs should provide bias free counselling and encourage gender equity, this can contribute to effective workplace culture changes.
Women Leadership and my work experience
I work as an HR intern for a financial services firm. The representation of women in the company is very less compared to men. Some of the strategies that I think they can do to improve this problem:
- Based on above research, they have to change their policies to genuinely make an effort to hire more women for promoting more gender diversity and this will also improve the talent pipeline for women. Hiring more women interns will also show the applicants that the firm is serious about gender diversity and small changes will can go a long way in achieving this goal. More women employees should visit career fairs and other recruiting events so that female students or job seekers will be more comfortable talking to them as well gaining more information about the company and their recruiter’s experiences in the firm.
- Currently there is only one women president in the firm, who have been with the firm since its beginning and worked her way up to this level. I feel although the employees know who she is and have heard stories about her experiences, more must be done to enhance her visibility. They can have session for the women employees to interact with her and gain first-hand knowledge about work, personal life, difficulties and experiences she faced on her journey to become president of the company.
- Create an effective mentoring program where senior women executives coach and develop the junior women employees. This will also give them an opportunity to interact with and show their presence to the senior leadership while working on specific project. Also, this will help them to create networking opportunities regardless of the level of the employees. Develop a career management path for high potential women employees.
My recommendations on what companies can do to move more women into leadership positions are as follows:
- Actively engage high potential women: Invest in high performing women with a capacity to lead and give them the confidence to do it. According to KPMG Women’s Leadership Study, out of 3,014 women, 67 percent mentioned “they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders”. Helping women to develop their confidence will be key to grooming them to be future leaders of the organization. Create forums where potential women employees could engage and contribute more. This would give them an opportunity to be creative, build a strong network and also pursue their interest outside of their regular work.
- Promote mobility opportunities: Mobility is an excellent strategy for talent development and talent retention. Having a dedicated internal mobility program for women employees would help them explore various opportunities within the firm and find a platform where they can perform even better. This also forces women employees to come out of their comfort zone and try new things at work. All these would eventually help build a larger portfolio of skills helping women employees succeed in longer term. This would also bring in fresh perspectives to their career compared to doing a same job for a very long term.
- Leadership training: Identify the most valued leadership attributes and create specific skill training opportunities and build confidence for women who wish to sharpen their skills. Trainings can be either functional or technical in nature based on the interest of the employee. But all programs could be focused on improving the overall ability of women employees to lead from the front. This is possible only if:
- The person has acquired enough knowledge and understanding of the underlying business of the organization they are part of
- Technical abilities to help them succeed in their current role
- Futuristic skills to help them decide their upcoming career path and even suggest the road map for the organization or team they are part of.
- Managerial Skill training: As women leaders grow up in their career, it is obvious that they would need to manage large teams and organizations. Managerial skill would be very essential and even play a vital role in the impact they can make. Every organization has their own culture and management styles. It is essential that enough mentorship and training is organized to onboard new and emerging women leaders to the management team.
- Establish mentors and network: Building relationships with peers, higher level management and mentors are key to career success. One way to do this is to connect junior level women employees with senior women leader mentors and to encourage networking opportunities at all levels. Design a mentorship program where senior female leader are selected to coach and guide women employees at different departments. These women employees should be assigned different mentors each year so that they can learn from different skills and experiences of leaders.
- Set a clear career path: Company leaders should work with human resource professionals to develop clear steps for career development for high potential women employees. This must be done early on in their career, maybe in their 20s or 30s. This will give women the confidence to develop the necessary skills as well as network will top management which will enhance their career prospects of getting promoted to C-suite positions.
- Role models: Highlighting the presence of female senior leader role models in the organization is very important to young women employees joining the firm. There must be certain sessions where senior women leaders could share their experiences and learning to young women employees. This will be key to developing next line of women leaders for the organization. This can be either brown bag sessions or talks where women leaders in the industry come and talk about their challenges and how they overcame each one to become whatever they are today. This would give the confidence and vision to women employees that sky is the limit in their career.
- Consistent feedback: Effective feedback system is one of the most important tool for career development. This would give an opportunity for every employee to take a pause and do an introspection on their career and how others perceive them. While you cannot change perceptions of others, you can change yourself to suit the style and culture of the organization. Women employees could definitely use this for their advantage. Formal feedback discussion programs should be organized where women employees could share and review their strengths and areas of improvement shown up in their feedbacks with their senior women mentors within the same organization. This would give an opportunity to have an open discussion and how certain areas of development could be converted to strengths.
- Equal pay for women and men: Male managers must be trained and made aware of biases women face. Women should be paid in line with their male peers.
- For women employees who are hired newly, salary should be fixed based on the role they are going to doing rather than the candidates ability to negotiate the package.
- For internal salary appraisals, proper judgement should be adopted to ensure salary hikes are in par with industry standards, persons productivity and impact and should never be biased.
- Provide unconscious bias training to managers: unconscious bias or implicit bias are prejudices deeply held in our unconscious which can unconsciously impact how we act towards one another in our organizations. Trainings to help managers identify and build skills to overcome these biases. Every person in the managerial capacity should undergo such trainings on a regular basis. Managers should be onboard with facts as well as various emerging research in the space and ensure they adopt the appropriate standards in their daily operating procedure.
- Diversity programs: These programs should be implemented from the CEO of the firm. They must work hard to show through actions and by being present in events, initiative, and be an example to the employees of promoting gender diversity. This will have a strong effect down the hierarchy line and more managers will change their mind set, work hard to hire talented women candidates and mentor them to progress to leadership roles.
- Adopt flexible policies in the workplace: Policies such as paid maternity leaves should be extended to six months and job protection should be provided to returning mothers. Implementing on-site child care facilities that will help women work and be more productive during their child rearing years. Flexible working options should also be implemented in all the companies. Women should not feel afraid to make use of these policies for the fear of losing their jobs. This would also build the talent pipeline for woman. As mentioned earlier, mobility opportunities should also be explored for working mothers who wish to take up roles which are less challenging than their regular roles for certain period of time.
Future research and Conclusion
As of today, many fortune 500 companies have excellent gender diversity programs and have various initiatives in place to tackle barriers women face in their upward journey to leadership roles. According to the CEO of KPMG, Lynne Doughtie, “organizations need nimble, cooperative and diverse teams in place to take advantage of technological changes.” This will mean more opportunities for women.
One area for future research would be to explore whether non-traditional leadership style can be effective in organizations and how it can help women progress in their careers. Since nontraditional leadership style and women’s leadership style, which is proven to be transformational leadership style, have many things in common. It also depends on the type of organization. In the current age of changes driven by data and technology, organizations should consider whether the corporate world is still the traditional ‘survival of the fittest’ or organizations are in line with the changes; where hierarchy structures doesn’t exist and organizations are changing into flat structures. Research can be done through surveying top organizations that have heavily invested to stay on top of change and find the out how change in organization structure, new performance feedback process and gender diversity will create opportunities for women to succeed to leadership roles.
Another area for research would be involvement of women in startups where there is ad hoc work culture and extreme pressure. Although it is more rewarding for employees than traditional organizations, they often do not follow standard practices and policies. Many even do not have a formal Human Capital Division and mostly run by close knit group. However, the important fact remains that some of these would be the Fortune 500 companies of the next generation. It is vital that women leaders are well represented in the startup industry formed by millennials. More research needs to be done in this area to understand how women are represented in these sectors, challenges faced by them and leadership skill required to excel. Some of my above recommendations to empower young women leaders would positively impact women in the next generation industries. However, the challenges that might be faced by them in the near future is yet to be seen.
Technology advancements in the field of analytics and Artificial Intelligence, combined with changing traditional organizational structures, the opportunities for women leaders are huge. With more research in this space and the onset of awareness to represent women equally and fairly in organizations, women leaders are set to capture top leadership roles in the coming future.
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