If you’re struggling to work your way into a leadership position, know that you’re not alone.
Worldwide, only 10% of CEOs are women. Embarrassingly, a 2019 Australian study even found that there were more men named ‘Andrew’ in the position of CEO than there were women. (Only 5.5% of CEOs were women, on par with those named ‘Michael’.)
The Wall Street Journal visualizes the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions particularly well, demonstrating the blatantly obvious absence of female presence at executive levels. If this makes you feel a bit angry – you’re also not alone there.
So what (if anything) is being done about this?
While we can’t overlook that there’s been plenty of pressure in recent years to get more women into leadership positions, we’re just not there yet. We’re not even close. IBM insights suggest that “Organizations want to change. But most are moving too slowly.”
It’s high time organizations (both in tech, and beyond) make women in leadership a priority. Here are a few reasons why.
To shift individual, workplace and global priorities
Discussing the need for more female leadership in 2021 – amid the most significant global event of our time – is both encouraging and problematic. The COVID-19 pandemic worked to both help and harm the cause of women in leadership.
Female leaders handled the pandemic better
A study of 194 countries found that “COVID-outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women”.
It found that many female leaders communicated better, locked down faster and experienced fewer fatalities. The authors of the research paper concluded that “being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis”.
Women have been more negatively impacted by the pandemic
McKinsey & Company research found that 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce as a result of the pandemic. The effects are even more significant for black women, who make up only 3% of the 21% of women at c-suite level. The research also shows that growth in female leadership plateaued last year, despite an upward trend in previous years.
So while women in leadership positions demonstrated better management of the pandemic, women were pressured to forfeit their careers. While childcare was a key challenge for many, a shift to working from home brought other threats to women’s careers too.
For female-led countries to report half the deaths of countries run by males is no small matter. This indicates the key priorities of female leaders: health, safety, community and compassion. For the same reason, women are more likely to sacrifice their careers to care for their families.
Now let’s imagine a world in which countries, workplaces and families prioritized what females tend to prioritize. There’s a reason Barack Obama said this in 2019:
“I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything… living standards and outcomes.”
To promote better leadership styles
While every leader’s style is unique, women are more likely to display qualities needed by modern leaders, such as:
- Emotional attunement
Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Cindy Gallop of Harvard Business Review suggest that men can learn from women’s leadership styles:
“Instead of encouraging women to act like male leaders (many of whom are incompetent), we should be asking men in power to adopt some of the more effective leadership behaviors more commonly found in women”.
That means putting others first, displaying humility and performing an authoritative role with an empathetic approach. These traits aren’t commonly associated with men’s leadership styles, which may be why a recent Girls in Tech study found that women with male bosses felt more burnt out during the pandemic than women with female bosses. Burnout was found to be even more prominent in organizations with male CEOs (Andrews, Michaels and otherwise). 85% of people reported burnout, as opposed to 15% in organizations with female CEOs.
To improve financial outcomes
Research proves that it makes business sense to promote more women into leadership roles. A Gallup study found that gender-diverse units had better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender. Different perspectives, knowledge and insights allow male and female teams to more effectively solve problems.
A Harvard Business School report also found that venture capital firms that increased the proportion of female partner hires by 10% saw, on average, a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7% more profitable exits.
These are great stats to have on hand when advocating for gender diversity in the workplace. They prove that women in leadership bring tangible financial benefits to organizations.
To bring more women to the table
What it boils down to is that we need more women in the boardroom. This can happen if organizations take real action. Again to draw from IBM research, many companies have increased programs and initiatives focused on gender diversity, but this alone hasn’t necessarily led to better workplace outcomes:
“Organizations may be using lots of tools, but the tools they’re employing aren’t getting at the fine edges—those mindsets and
behaviors that create a welcoming, inclusive corporate culture and deliver business advantage.”
While initiatives like gender-blind job screenings and parental leave for women are great steps towards supporting gender equality in the workplace, it doesn’t immediately or directly solve the lack of women in leadership roles.
The only thing that will directly address the issue is action.
It’s why Girls in Tech is encouraging our community to pledge to Half the Board. Change requires total commitment from everyone in an organization. We want more than empty promises. We want to see a real shift. We want to see boards commit to 50/50 gender parity by 2025.
Will you join the movement? Make the pledge to Half the Board today.