Careers
April 22

Women in Leadership: Why the Gap?

Established women in their careers have likely witnessed the gender gap first-hand on their way to the top. The easiest illustration of the gender gap is who holds leadership roles and gets the promotions. Leadership traits are not unique to any one gender, background, culture or industry, but the gap between men and women in leadership roles would suggest otherwise. Moreover, the gap between women of color is even greater. So, why the disparity? As a female-led agency, it’s a topic that we take to heart. Many of us have broken through the glass ceiling and want to aid other women building their careers.

What individuals around you hold these leadership positions? According to data from Lean In, only 21% of C-suite leaders today are women and just 1% are Black women. When looking at Fortune 500 companies, only 7% of CEOs are female. That’s 36 women accounting for 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs! Compare this to the 57% of women that make up the workforce and it’s obvious there is an issue that needs addressing. More women are working yet fewer make it to the top.

A study found that if first-level women managers were hired and promoted statistically at the same rate and frequency as first-level managers, there would be 1 million more women in management over the next five years. These numbers might suggest men are more qualified to lead but the data does not support that theory. The majority of individuals believe that there is a difference between male and female leadership styles, but only a select few believe there is a clear winner between the two — and of those, many lean towards women.

So, if differences in leadership styles are not hindering women from being promoted as fast, then what is it? The issue expands beyond promotion gaps — wages across all industries are significantly different for men and women.

What is holding women back is the increased number of obstacles compared to that of men. As you know, women can go after these roles; however, they face an uphill battle slowing the process down that most men don’t. Systemic issues and tradition in some industries of male-dominated leadership are holding women back. There is an uphill battle against micro-aggressions, exclusion, lack of sponsorship by top management, ego clashes and judgment. These challenges create a glass ceiling that a majority of women can’t break. Slower advancement and less access to mission-critical or visible roles have instilled fear and a lack of confidence in most women.

This complex issue is rooted in unintentional bias and reluctance. Other alarming data supports that approximately 40% of the gender gap is left unexplained. If left untouched this gap will continue to grow and economic performance will struggle. Specific causes of this gap can be found in the place of work, the number of hours worked, years of experience and education differences. The solution to this increasing issue is not simple. Women have more access to higher education and this step in the right direction gives women the skills on paper to compete for jobs against men. This, paired with more awareness, and opportunities today will help close the gap.

What can be done?

The outlook for women in the workplace has improved compared to years ago. As an established professional, you can make a difference not only in the lives of women in your organization but create a domino effect.

Mentoring those who are starting their career can pay dividends. Women with mentors are more likely to become leaders and organizations with mentor programs keep employees at higher rates.

Advocate for females in your industry among your peers and continue developing your leadership traits so that those who look up to you can break the glass ceiling and keep pushing. Your confidence and ability to fuel other’s aspirations will make the most difference.

Thoughtful hiring policies can shift your organization away from biases you might not have known existed. From higher quality job descriptions to blind auditions or hiring by committee — these initiatives can single in on the right candidate with relevant experience while increasing diversity in the workforce.

In your organization, cultivate a culture that challenges past ideals. Gender inequalities are indeed complex, and the solution will take more time but your firm can take the right approach and shift the corporate culture from within. Cultures without unconscious bias that feature more leadership roles, inclusive expectations and conditions for success are the organizations in which professionals can thrive and set an example for other companies.

Solving the gender inequalities will take time. We all have to engage in meaningful ways to help others build their careers and affect change. Instead of waiting for industries to evolve — be proactive now.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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