In this article, written for International Women’s Day, Lissele Pratt, Director and Co-Founder of Capitalixe, looks at how we can help more women evolve into executive roles.
It’s a well-documented phenomenon that women are underrepresented in leadership roles worldwide. According to Mckinsey & Co, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. And while the number of female directors in the FTSE has increased by 50% in five years, there’s still a massive gender gap.
Many people have theories about why this happens. These range from the idea that women are less ambitious than men to the suggestion that they prioritise their families over their careers. However, the truth is that the reasons are far more nuanced than these simple explanations. There are many factors at play, including how women are treated in the workplace, the lack of female role models and gender imbalances.
Understanding why women are underrepresented in leadership roles is the first step towards fixing this problem. We can then start working towards solutions that will ensure more women land leadership roles.
Reasons why women are underrepresented in leadership roles
1. Men tend to be mentored and sponsored by men at higher rates
Many of the most senior positions are held by men who have been supported by other men, both formally and informally. They have networks that consist of other men in influential positions, so they are more likely to be recommended for high-paid roles.
As a woman working in the highly male-dominated industry of finance, I saw the ‘boys club’ first hand. The predominately male networks that were formed had the effect of making women feel unwelcome and excluded.
2. Workplace culture
In many cases, workplaces have been designed around men and their needs. They often lack formal or informal childcare arrangements, a lack of part-time work opportunities and even basic things like female bathrooms, so working life simply isn’t a good fit for many women.
3. Gender bias and stereotypes
There are some pervasive gender stereotypes that are influencing decisions around development and promotion. These often boil down to assumptions about male or female behaviour which lead people to see the world in a very gendered way. Harvard Business Review found that women are stereotyped as being compassionate and energetic, while men are seen as being analytical and competent.
The negative impact of these stereotypes means that women are typically seen as less assertive, while men are judged on their potential. As a result, women don’t get the same opportunities for development and promotion as men do. Women are also often scrutinised for portraying ‘masculine qualities.’ For example, when women speak up, they can be labelled as bossy or aggressive, whereas in the same circumstances, men would be deemed as strong, confident and decisive.
4. A lack of female role models
In the past, men have typically been promoted to senior roles. As a result, many of these people tend to share male characteristics and perspectives. Inadvertently or not, this gives the impression that being a leader is a masculine trait.
As workplace culture has been designed around men in the past, women have fallen behind in terms of how they fit into the corporate world. And as a result, many women are less likely to feel empowered or encouraged.
What can we do to encourage more women into leadership roles?
Create an environment where women can develop and grow
There’s been a vast amount of research into what women want from their work environment and what can help them to be successful in their careers. In their survey, the Center for Creative Leadership found that:
- Women want a calling, not just a regular 9-5 job
- Women want flexibility in where, when and how they work
- Women want real leadership opportunities
With this in mind, businesses should be adapting their work environments to better meet the needs of women. From offering flexible working arrangements like work-from-home or hybrid work policies to ensuring that the tasks and roles assigned to women are varied and challenging, and ensuring women can access career-building opportunities.
Set actionable goals for hiring and promoting more women
This doesn’t just mean promising to hire women in your company’s messaging. Instead, consider setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals for what you are looking to achieve with women in your workplace.
For example, if your company is currently 70% male and 30% female, set a goal to hire 15 more women by the end of December next year or increase that percentage to 40%.
These goals can be applied to any aspect of your business, from hiring to performance reviews. Be sure to share them with your employees and communicate them clearly. This will not only ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals, but it also holds you to account in meeting these goals.
Provide feedback, mentoring opportunities and career guidance
High-performing women want to know how to get ahead. Providing these high performers with opportunities to develop their skills and networks is key to showing them they can progress in your company.
Giving feedback is a two-way street and should be a regular occurrence in your workplace. Not only does it help employees to grow, but it also shows that you are invested in their success. In addition, offering mentoring opportunities to high performers helps to develop the next generation of leaders within your company.
When it comes to career guidance, it’s important that you understand your employees’ career goals and help them to get there. This could be through offering additional training or putting them forward for opportunities they may not have known about otherwise.
If your organisation currently doesn’t have enough women in senior leadership teams, consider linking your more junior team to an external female mentor. This allows them to gain insight into the challenges they might face as well as potential solutions from someone who has been through it themselves.
Why does this matter?
A new wave of Gen Z talent is coming into the workforce, and they expect to see diversity reflected in their career paths. This generation has grown up around global social movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and #BlackLivesMetter. They’re used to calling out inequalities, and they value organisations with purpose and strong values. This means it’s vital for businesses to not only address gender bias but also other forms of inequality, including race and sexual preference.
As a whole, more companies are taking action on this issue by working towards equality in the workplace. If your company refuses to adapt its work environment to better suit women, you risk losing out on the talent needed for businesses to grow and adjust for modern times.
By setting specific goals offering feedback and mentoring opportunities to women, companies are improving retention rates for women, which improves productivity. Women are staying at their jobs three times longer when they feel they have a fulfilling role that is respected within the company’s culture. What’s more, research shows that businesses with diverse teams perform better than those with less diversity.
It’s time for companies to take a good hard look at their environments and policies and make the necessary changes to reflect an inclusive culture that is more accessible to women. Implementing policies like flexible work hours, working from home, and setting measurable targets for gender equality are steps in the right direction towards creating companies with purpose.
However, the most important thing you can do as a manager is to create a culture of respect where everyone’s contribution is valued equally. Once women begin to feel included, they will start to thrive in your company.