Women and Leadership

The past year has challenged organizations in new and unexpected ways. Amid a growing need to remain profitable despite economic challenges and inspire engagement in a virtual work environment, gender equality in the workplace has also gained critical attention in a competitive drive for business success.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, companies that promote women in leadership positions are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Despite growing evidence that female leadership can bring about positive results, women continue to face many roadblocks. Understanding these barriers is an excellent place to begin your organization’s gender diversification efforts.

Understand barriers

Although most people agree that women are just as capable of leading as men, a Pew Research Center survey found “about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business…”

These barriers include women having to work harder than their male counterparts to prove themselves. Although women were perceived in the survey to be better at ethical and honest management practices, providing fair pay, and mentoring employees, the survey showed misconceptions persist regarding the ability of women to negotiate effectively and take risks.

Coach, mentor, and educate

Creating an environment of opportunity for women is beneficial for Top Workplaces. It also shows you are an advocate for coaching and mentoring women business leaders so that they can continue to develop their skills and grow within your organization. HR can play a significant role in gathering data about current employees, including pay levels and performance ratings. With these insights, they can communicate actionable steps to better promote and support women in leadership positions.

While these conversations may be uncomfortable, knowing your short fallings is a critical turning point for change. Ensuring your talent pipeline is diverse might mean rethinking your recruitment strategy. Adopt programs that will foster female employee growth and find ways to better support workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion with an honest look at where you are and where you’d like to be.

Inclusion efforts ultimately amount to a win-win for all involved. By increasing opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups, your organization makes a powerful statement that can impact work culture better. When employees know that an organization cares about them, work output increases, and employee recruitment and retention improve. It can also help to improve employee engagement.

Actions you can take

Values matter, and as the importance of diversity gains momentum, a new generation of job seekers are looking for organizations that put their values into action. This means going beyond simply hiring female managers.

Because challenges persist, the action your organization takes will have a lasting impact in the years to come. Here are some things your organization can do to foster a more welcoming and supportive workplace environment for women in leadership roles.

  • Involve women in important projects. Allow women to play a more prominent role in higher budget projects, which tend to get more recognition. Play to their strengths and allow them to take on diverse roles, giving them the chance to demonstrate their abilities beyond administrative tasks, which are too often delegated to women.
  • Celebrate small and large success. Women are often less likely to seek recognition, but that doesn’t mean they are less deserving. Seek out ways to celebrate women managers in meetings, on company social media posts, at company-led events, and through awards like those given to Women-Led Top Workplaces.
  • Ensure gender parity in leadership. Actions often speak louder than words. Look for ways to level the gender gap regarding pay, benefits, incentives, budgeting plans, company investments, and recognition.
  • Create a safe and open work environment. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and macroaggression. Foster open communication with employees at all levels and ensure women feel safe to report misconduct.
  • Support women in leadership roles. Provide mentorship opportunities for women in leadership to both mentor other women and seek mentorship themselves. Supporting women in leadership doesn’t have to be just an internal effort. Get involved with advocacy programs outside of your organization by supporting women-led companies, volunteering for non-profits or events that champion women’s leadership, and donating to causes that promote equality in your community and beyond.

The strength of women in leadership

Women bring unique viewpoints and strengths to leadership, with often surprising results. Though barriers still exist, according to the global advisory group Women Deliver, “Countries with a greater proportion of women as top decision-makers in legislatures have lower levels of income inequality.” They also found that countries with women cabinet ministers “…exhibit greater levels of confidence in their national governments.”

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace studies, women in senior-vice-president positions have grown from 23% in 2015 to 28% in 2020. This growth is also reflected in Fortune 500 companies where women business leaders, such as Cynthia Marshall, the NBA’s first black female CEO, continue to push boundaries and prove women and leadership can and should mix.

What does the future hold for women in leadership? Growing positive evidence suggests an exciting shift is already underway, leaving room for many more exciting “firsts” to come.

Looking for more information on how your employees feel you could improve your company’s work culture overall? The Top Workplaces employee engagement survey is a great way to identify areas of improvement within your organization’s culture and even highlights unique opportunities moving forward.

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