Why aren’t more women playing significant leadership roles?

The below article was originally published on EBW Global:

Why aren’t more women playing significant leadership roles?

The under-representation of women in significant leadership roles is a complex issue with multiple factors at play. While progress has been made over the years, there are still several challenges that contribute to this imbalance.

Some of the key factors include:

Gender Bias and Stereotypes

Societal perceptions of gender roles can lead to biases and stereotypes that associate leadership with masculine traits. This can result in women being overlooked for leadership positions or facing more scrutiny when in those roles.

Lack of Role Models

When women don’t see many female leaders in their field, it can be difficult for them to envision themselves in such roles. Role models are crucial for inspiring and motivating individuals to pursue leadership positions.

Workplace Culture

Organizational cultures that are not inclusive or that perpetuate traditional gender norms can create barriers for women seeking leadership roles. Workplaces with limited flexibility, unequal pay, and lack of support for work-life balance can discourage women from pursuing or staying in leadership positions.

Lack of Access to Opportunities

Women might have much fewer opportunities for sponsorship, mentorship, networking, and skill development compared to their male counterparts. This can hinder their ability to progress into leadership positions. This is particularly true when they do not have a sponsor who recommends and champions their promotion.

Family and Care Responsibilities

Societal expectations and traditional gender roles can place a disproportionate burden on women when it comes to care giving responsibilities, making it challenging to commit to demanding leadership roles.

Negotiation and Confidence Gap

Research indicates that women are often less likely to negotiate for higher salaries or promotions, and they may also experience a confidence gap, doubting their abilities even when they are highly qualified.

Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors

The “glass ceiling” metaphor represents the invisible barriers that prevent women from ascending to top leadership roles, while “sticky floors” refer to women being disproportionately represented in lower-paying and lower-status positions.

Structural and Systemic Barriers

Systemic issues such as limited access to education and discriminatory policies can inhibit women’s progress into leadership roles, particularly in certain industries or regions.

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving changes at the individual, societal, and institutional levels.

What’s the business case for female leadership?

Research suggest that women can often bring unique strengths to leadership roles, which may benefit teams and organisations at all levels of management and leadership.

So what are some of the benefits that female leaders can bring to an organisation?

  • Advanced diversity equity and inclusion: Having female leaders has been shown to increase diversity and inclusion within the organisation.

  • Better financial performance: Women in leadership roles can increase the financial performance of an organisation.

  • More varied perspectives: Having female leaders in an organisation provides different perspectives to a board and helps to improve a firm’s ability to generate profit from its assets and investments.

  • Improved interpersonal relations: Female leaders are consistently shown to have a higher rate of relationship building, which can help the organisation to negotiate such things as difficult contracts.

  • Increased Team Well-being: Female leaders help to promote the well-being and motivation of the team and increase work-life balance.

It is important to note that most research is just correlational, which means that they cannot prove that women leaders have a causal effect. However the research looking at women leaders still strongly suggest that there is a positive relationship between women leaders and these factors.

Sources include:

What can we do to encourage more women into leadership positions?

I have found over the years that the 80:20 rule applies to the “Glass Ceiling” – 20% are real obstacles and attitudes, but 80% are within the control of the individual woman. Therefore one of the keys to encouraging more women into leadership roles is by helping them identify this 80% and manage it effectively.

Identify and be honest about workplace context

The journey towards a leadership role for a woman must necessarily begin with a deep understanding of the context in which she finds herself and in which she is expecting to grow and thrive. So what is context and why is it important?

Context in this case is the corporate ecosystem in which a woman needs to introduce new thoughts, new skills and new attitudes. Whether these thrive or fail really depends on the context into which they are released. Considering context properly and giving it the importance it deserves is a critical factor in a woman’s success as a leader.

Think about it – no farmer in their right mind would plant a new crop in the midst of weeds, parasites or unsuitable soil conditions – because they know that their crops will fail under unfavourable conditions. Maybe one or two hardy plants will make it but the majority won’t. Does this also apply to behavioural changes in the corporate world? My 40 plus years of experience tells me “YES” it certainly applies.

When organizations introduce Leadership Development Programs for Women, 3 important aspects of context must be taken into consideration in order to get the most out of that investment:

  1. The relationship between men and women in the organization and their perceptions of how their professional relationships and futures could be impacted by Leadership Development initiatives for women.

  2. The importance of building self-awareness, social awareness, and self-confidence among the women is critical for those who have been selected for leadership development. We are talking about leadership development of women and not ‘gender change’. We want women leaders to use their strengths as women in their leadership roles.

  3. The next steps – is there a place for promotion/growth, and if not, is the adoption of a “growth- mindset” and continuous professional development sufficient to retain the new leaders until there are suitable openings for them?

Acknowledge individual and gender-based strengths and differences

When considering how to help women in leadership roles, it’s important to acknowledge that there are different traits which are more common in women and men. For example, the fact that women tend to be less confident than men is not a myth — this is a researched fact.

If leadership training overlooks the fact that men and women have different typical traits and styles then it may not be helpful. It’s about time we acknowledge those differences and face them head-on in our Leadership Programmes.

Studies have suggested that leadership training programmes specifically for women can bring about many benefits such as increased self-confidence and increased networking skills. This helps women to unlock their potential.

A real life example – how L.E.A.D is helping women succeed in leadership positions

My company, ICTN, has designed, developed and delivered the L.E.A.D.© Program for the Development of Women Leaders. L.E.A.D.© is an immersive and transformative Live-Online Group Coaching experience, designed to empower and equip women with the skills and mindset needed to thrive in leadership roles.

In the last year this program has already made a significant impact on over 250 women leaders from diverse backgrounds – so how have we achieved this?

L.E.A.D.© provides a safe and inclusive space for female leaders

In today’s dynamic business landscape, it is crucial for women to position themselves as reliable, courageous, and capable leaders. The L.E.A.D.© Program provides a safe and inclusive space for women to enhance their inner strength and self-belief. By addressing both overt and hidden cultural biases against women in leadership, participants learn effective strategies to navigate challenges and quickly recover from setbacks.

The two methods that have proven effective in building self-confidence are:

  • First, developing an in-depth understanding of their personalized Business EQ profile because this builds their self-awareness and provides them with practical strategies for managing their own behaviours in practical, effective and sustainable ways.

  • Second and equally important, we work on their limiting beliefs, unconscious biases and false assumptions. This involves a deep-dive into intra-personal communication and learning how to build unbreakable self-confidence.

L.E.A.D.© uses EBW Business Emotional Intelligence

At the heart of the program lies Business Emotional Intelligence (Business EQ). Business Emotional Intelligence is a practical, work based approach to Emotional Intelligence that helps individuals and teams understand why people behave the way they do and how to maximise their engagement with, and performance at work.

The EBW Business Emotional Intelligence Profile offers us one of the most versatile and pragmatic approaches to individual and team relationships because it focuses on the eight behaviours that predict career success or failure in the workplace. In the 15 years that we have been using the EBW Business EQ tool we have come to rely on the accuracy of the reports and equally important the effectiveness of the behavioural strategies that we develop with the individual participants as they map out their career journeys for more successful outcomes.

ICTN’s expert facilitators, Fay Niewiadomski, Ph.D. and Rima Awada Zgheib, are both accredited EBW Global (Emotions and Behaviors at Work) Partners. As such, they bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to guide participants through a profound journey of self-awareness, self-management, and self-confidence. With a focus on deepening these core competencies, women are empowered to earn their place in leading multinational businesses worldwide.

L.E.A.D.© coaches women to manage their 80% effectively via 4 distinct paths

The four paths to Leadership Development for women are: L.E. A. D.

  1. LEARN – deepen self-awareness to the point where you are able to reprogram your behaviour

  2. ENGAGE – build authentic relationships at all levels of the organization and expand both internal and external networks

  3. ADVANCE – develop strategies that enable you to confidently take your place at the leadership table

  4. DEVELOP – Embrace a Growth Mindset – learning and development is an ongoing journey that doesn’t stop.

L.E.A.D.© makes sure women are planning into the future

The L.E.A.D.© Program’s impact extends far beyond the coaching sessions. Upon completion, each participant receives a comprehensive 22-page EBW Business Emotional Intelligence Profile. This personalized assessment provides invaluable insights and serves as a guide as women leaders embark on achieving the goals and action plans they have mapped out to future leadership roles. The program’s cornerstone and key takeaways lie in the development of this robust action plan, empowering women to navigate their career paths with clarity and purpose.

L.E.A.D.© is a truly diverse program.

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