Why Aren’t Women Leaders Making Progress?

Back in 1993, the movie, Groundhog Day, told the story of a weatherman who lives the same day over and over. The progress of women in high-level leadership roles seems to be having its own Groundhog Day. It can be disheartening reading some of the data, blogs and comments. There are references to a glass ceiling, the lack of women CEO’s and board members in major corporations or that somehow women are temperamentally unsuited for leadership positions. The topic of women as leaders seems to be a lightning rod.

Strong data for why women in high-level positions are beneficial to business

In 2007, two studies (Catalyst’s The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards and McKinsey’s Women Matter) reported that women in high-level leadership roles had a positive effect on the bottom line of Fortune 500 companies.

If you are really into data, here is some more information (from the MBA@UNC blog) about how women play integral roles in the success of organizations:
Women at Work Infographic Via MBA@UNC
Via MBA@UNC MBA Online & Women 2.0

Little to no commitment to fostering women’s leadership skills

A 2010 study by Mercer reports that 71% of organizations lack a focused strategy or philosophy for developing women in leadership roles. Their findings are certainly mixed. Some regions of the world are showing more engagement than others in offering initiatives but overall, the numbers remain low. In a more recent study by UNC-Kenan Flagler Business School, it was reported by respondents that most organizations did not give strategic value to developing women’s leadership skills nor intended to in the near future. This continues in spite of ongoing research, like in this 2011 Zenger-Folkman study, that women have the necessary skills.

So why do we continue to struggle with developing women in leadership?

This may be the real question underneath all of this data. There are certainly perceptual gaps between men and women about access to moving up into more powerful roles. Men report that things are progressing while women report that there is a lack of progression. It is likely that there is a more sociological explanation for the ongoing gender gap.

  • Unease with powerful women-This seems to be a prevalent theme in comments about women and leadership. Maybe the comments come from very unhappy people who have had extremely harsh experiences with a particular woman and have extrapolated that all women are (fill in negative stereotype). It could be something out of psychoanalysis resulting from the mother-child relationship.
  • Change in gender roles-For many societies, there is a strong tradition that women and men play specific roles. We have a mythology of what a “real man” and a “real woman” ought to be like. Women who avoid the stereotypes of being only nice or naughty create cognitive dissonance and push-back from those who value the perpetuation of traditional roles.
  • Workers are cogs in the machine-There is still a pervasive philosophy that workers, even high-level executives, are pieces of the machine and must devote their whole lives. (We talked about that in a previous #KaizenBiz chat.) Given that women are most often required to be the primary caregivers in their families, this societal expectation may interfere with developing women leaders within an organization and relegate them to the “mommy track” or some other limited path to power.

This isn’t an easy conversation.

We know logically that there are merely people who are leaders. Neither gender has a monopoly on being the “best leader.” It isn’t even men versus women. The limits being set on developing women as leaders comes from something else.

What are the primary skills of a effective leader?

What are you observing that prevents women from being trained and promoted into leadership roles?

What perpetuates the negative stereotypes of women bosses?

How do we break these stereotypes?

What can we do to foster women to embrace leadership roles?

Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 25th at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT to explore this topic.



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