It’s been proven that increasing gender equality and minimizing the gap in leadership is not a matter of ability. In fact, women show greater capacity for leadership when assessed in 16 competencies. Yet, men still occupy a disproportionate number of leadership positions. This leaves women wondering what exactly is keeping them from these roles.
Gender Equality Challenge #1 – Lack of Opportunities
Women are ready to lead and express their desire to do so. However, they often don’t know how or where to apply their leadership skills. Their current roles provide little to no insight into key initiatives, newly developed positions, or areas of need. So, how can women learn about new opportunities?
Herein lies the value of sponsorship versus mentoring. As discussed in a prior article on challenges employers must overcome, sponsors actively advocate for an employee’s career. They are not first-line management but senior-level or executive leaders who can leverage their insight to provide access to otherwise hard-to-identify opportunities.
- Be proactive and capitalize on your strengths. Take on new projects or stretch assignments that keep you visible for advancement.
- Tap into a senior leader or executive for sponsorship.
- Even if it seems like no one is listening, vocalize your desire for growth. Someone is listening.
Gender Equality Challenge #2 – Self-Confidence
An internal report by Hewlett-Packard showed that a woman’s confidence in her qualifications has a significant impact on how likely she is to apply to a role. Despite clearly having the leadership skills to fill high-level corporate positions, are women skipping over opportunities because of lack of confidence? Are we our own worst enemy?
Without negating women’s responsibility for improving their self-confidence, they often receive mixed signals as to what attributes are valued in leadership positions and whether they can—by inherent nature of being a woman—even have these attributes. A dichotomy exists between a woman leader being respected and being liked: women who are assertive or take decisive action can be perceived as combative, leading to confusion on expectations and obliterating their confidence.
- Networking with other women, especially women already in leadership roles, helps boost self-confidence. Learn about their struggles and successes and celebrate progress together.
- If corporate culture gives you mixed messages, seek out unbiased feedback on your qualifications.
Gender Equality Challenge #3 – Life Choices
Even if a woman is confident in her abilities, personal life choices contribute to a decreased likelihood of securing a leadership role. In particular, the unspoken expectation that professional growth means putting in more hours dissuades many women but especially moms.
No matter one’s view on gender roles in the home, women are usually the primary caregiver regardless of their work status. Many companies have implemented paid parental leave and flexible or compact work schedules to keep talented women in the workforce. Women who don’t feel penalized for life choices, and receive support during life transitions, stay and grow with a company.
- Advocate for work-life policies that incentivize—not discourage—women from staying with a company.
- Even if these policies don’t have an impact on you, set other women up for success and continued career growth by leading change within your own organization.
Above all, it’s crucial to have open dialogue on what is keeping women from leadership positions. The problem is not one-sided and has direct consequences to business success. Both men and women, across all organizational levels, need to come together to improve gender equality in the workforce.
See how IMPACT Group’s Women in Leadership program can help your organization identify and put more women in leadership roles at your organization.
Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers, HBR.com
Why Women Don’t Apply to Job Unless They Are 100% Qualified, HBR.com
Gender Barriers and Solutions to Leadership, Training Industry
Act Now to Shrink the Confidence Gap, Forbes.com
Women in Leadership: Surmounting Barriers & Bias, Chief Learning Officer
Women in Leadership Workbook: Analyze Gender Diversity, IMPACT Group