As a woman, I’ve always wanted to talk about leadership. Right from a young age, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of leadership and especially, women leaders.
From Benazir Bhutto to Indira Gandhi, from Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Indra Nooyi to Angela Merkel, I have always been heavily inspired by women who rose to greater heights through sheer dedication and hard work.
In a world where gender inequality is still rampant, it’s saddening to see women getting underrepresented in positions of power and greater responsibilities.
Despite the significant signs of progress made in recent years, people are still hesitant to give women leadership positions across a wide range of industries. This is not only a matter of prejudice and social injustice but also a great missed opportunity for businesses to identify talented people who possess diverse experiences and perspectives.
Therefore, in this article, we shall explore some of the key strategies that women can follow to break through the glass ceiling and become professionally stronger in male-centric fields.
Tracing the Historical Context of Women in Leadership
If we walk through the annals of history, we can glaringly notice that women have almost always faced multiple barriers to assuming leadership roles. Right from legal restrictions to societal norms, the world hasn’t been fair to women.
The fight for women’s rights has been a long and arduous struggle, peppered by a series of path-breaking movements across the world.
For instance, the Suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries catalyzed women to gain a voice for their representation in society. Subsequently, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s took place, focusing on a plethora of issues ranging from reproductive rights to domestic violence.
Though women still struggle to make their mark in male-dominated societies, the legacy of these movements has provided them with a comfortable pathway to walk and leave no stone unturned to achieve greater heights.
An Overview of the Present Status of Women in Leadership Roles
Despite all the milestones we’ve achieved in the past few centuries, we have to acknowledge one thing – we still have a long way to go. Let’s look at some key statistics:
- The ‘Women in the Workplace 2022’ report by McKinsey and Company says that while 48% of women make up entry-level employees, only 26% of them are C-suite executives. For women of color, the numbers are even more disappointing. Only 5% of C-suite executives are women.
- Only in 2023 did we see for the first time that women lead over 10% of the companies listed in the Fortune 500.
- In 2021, Rosalind Brewer became just the third Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company, the Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).
- According to the US Census Bureau, for every dollar earned by a man, a woman only makes 83 cents. Women of color are in an even more disadvantageous situation. For instance, for every dollar earned by a man, a Black woman earns only 64 cents and a Hispanic woman 57 cents.
The list goes on and on…
But why is this disparity occurring? What are the root causes?
Again, the ‘Women in the Workplace 2022’ report by McKinsey and Company answers our questions. They are,
- Women face more obstacles than men while advancing.
- Women in leadership roles are not given the recognition they deserve.
- Women leaders desire a new work culture.
How can we overcome this situation and turn the tables in our favor? Come, let us explore.
1. Addressing the Challenges
Discrimination, unconscious bias, and lack of former representation in leadership positions are some of the major challenges that women face in their workplaces.
Discrimination is a shape-shifting phenomenon. For instance, sexual harassment, lack of equal pay, denial of equal rights, and lack of proper opportunities are some ways in which discrimination in the workplace occurs.
From my perspective, unconscious bias is the by-product of gender stereotyping. Without providing a chance for a woman to prove her abilities, people, by large, assume that women are incapable of leadership positions.
Finally, as there are zero precedents (with women in leadership roles) in most companies, talented women often find it difficult to shatter the glass ceiling and look beyond.
To address these challenges, women should employ strategies like networking, building strong personal branding, and opting for mentorship. Mentors can provide guidance and support and can also offer valuable connections and introductions.
Networking is essential for a woman at her workplace as it helps her build a strong personal rapport will all her colleagues.
Finally, by building strong personal branding, women can easily stand out and make it clear how professionally well-qualified they are.
2. Skill Development
We are in a fast-moving world today. What is relevant today might not be relevant tomorrow. Therefore, career-oriented women must develop the skills necessary for all facets of their work.
As a thumb of rule, I believe developing skills in areas like communication, negotiation, and leadership will help women to swim against the tides of the male-dominated world.
For instance, if we have a look at the lives of successful women, we can see that they would have learned to excel in these three areas to make them indispensable at work.
3. Building Confidence and Resilience
Building confidence and resilience are essential to shine in workplaces, especially male-dominated ones. Having confidence in one’s abilities is essential because it makes women feel empowered, which will provide them with the courage to meet new challenges.
Developing resilience is also essential, as it will help women bounce back from setbacks and pave the pathway toward success.
However, to build both confidence and resilience, it’s imperative to build a support network first. Having people who encourage and support women to take risks and lift their spirits is necessary.
Finally, learning from failures is also essential for women as it will help them learn and grow, which will eventually make them more resilient with time.
4. The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion
It’s necessary to recognize the value of mixed personnel and having women in leadership positions. It not only promotes gender equality but also has been demonstrated to bring advantages to businesses.
Teams with women in leadership roles with different backgrounds have been proven to be more innovative and productive, introducing a unique perspective to tackling issues and decisions. Studies have revealed that companies with a greater proportion of female executives have better financial success.
Women in leadership roles can be a source of inspiration and a model to show other women how to break through the glass ceiling. Hence, it’s necessary to create a culture that stimulates and supports the growth and progress of women in leadership positions, both for the benefit of the individual and the organization overall.
To sum up, for women in male-dominated industries, shattering the glass ceiling is a major concern. Facing issues like bias, discrimination, and inadequate representation needs initiatives like mentorship, networking, and creating a positive personal image.
Becoming successful requires the development of abilities like communication, negotiation, and leadership, as well as the strengthening of courage and resilience.
Promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is of the utmost importance since it helps all involved and sets a good example for the next generation of women.
Adams, S. (2014, August 5). Companies Do Better With Women Leaders (But Women Need More Confidence To Lead), Study Says. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/08/05/companies-do-better-with-women-leaders-but-women-need-more-confidence-to-lead-study-says/
Gurchiek, K. (2021, February 1). Rosalind Brewer Becomes Third Black Woman to Head a Fortune 500 Company. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/rosalind-brewer-becomes-3rd-black-woman-to-head-a-fortune-500-company.aspx
Hinchcliffe. (2023, January 26). Women Run More Than 10% of Fortune 500 Companies for the First Time. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from https://www.shrm.org/executive/resources/pages/women-fortune-500-2023.aspx
Iacurci, G. (2022, May 19). Women are still paid 83 cents for every dollar men earn. Here’s why. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/19/women-are-still-paid-83-cents-for-every-dollar-men-earn-heres-why.html
Krivkovich, Ngyuen, Yee, Liu, Rambachan, Williams, & Robinson. (2022, October). Women in the Workplace 2022. McKinsey and Company. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/featured%20insights/diversity%20and%20inclusion/women%20in%20the%20workplace%202022/women-in-the-workplace-2022.pdf
Lola Rosario says
Kudos to you for continuing the much-needed conversation. As femmes, it’s crucial to consider what we bring to the table: intellect, innovation, and a flavor our very own.
I am of the mindset that we need not simply do what men have historically done – we should and must invent our unique ways vis-à-vis the corporate world (or even the non-corporate sector). In areas of management, it’s important to find ways to really connect with our teams (in & outside of the office), to encourage an exchange of ideas, to create mentorship programs.
We mustn’t simply take the positions of leadership to emulate our male counterparts! They are not the measuring stick!
Thank you for this.
A suggestion: since you used initial capitalization for “Hispanic,’ you should also have done the same for Black women.
Susan Gunelius says
Thanks for joining the conversation, Lola. Capitalization has been revised.
Gayathri Gopalan says
Thank you so much for your insightful and thoughtful comment! I absolutely agree with you that as femmes, it’s crucial for us to recognize and value the unique perspectives and skills that we bring to the table. I believe that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is essential for innovation and success, and it’s important for us to find ways to connect with our teams and encourage the exchange of ideas.
I appreciate your suggestion regarding initial capitalization and will make sure to keep that in mind in future writing. Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts and for your support of continuing this important conversation.