There has been significant progress for women in many arenas over the past 20 years, especially in education. Since the 1990s, women have outnumbered men in college enrollment and college completion rates. Women are also more likely to continue their education after college.
This gender disparity has led to a majority of women enrolling and graduating from law school, medical school, dental school, and more. There have also been breakthroughs for women with regard to managerial positions and professional fields. But yet, women continue to be far behind men when it comes to senior management positions.
Out of all the S&P 500 companies, there are only 24 female CEOs, or roughly 5% of the list. In 1995, there were none. So why is it that more women than men are graduating from college and getting hired but the leadership numbers don’t reflect this change?
Why Are There So Few Women Leaders?
There is plenty of research out there that proves that diversity in the workplace makes business sense. Gender-diverse companies outperform others financially by 15%. Sidenote—ethnically diverse companies outperform others financially by as high as 35%. And yet many industries still have a big gap between the number of men and women in leadership positions.
Progress is slow and without a strong pipeline of female talent behind the CEO of a company, there won’t be any breakthroughs in women leadership. Here are some of the biggest obstacles in place for women working for leadership roles.
Stereotypes in the Workplace
When people close their eyes and imagine a CEO, a white man is the most common image. The traditional gender roles can create an unconscious bias in the work force. These biases can create problems with women receiving the critical support needed from high-ranking sponsors who can actively campaign for a woman’s advancement. Women in the workforce need mentors as well as sponsors, someone who will really fight for their growth.
Critical Jobs Go to Men
When it comes to getting critical profit-and-loss (P&L) jobs that act as grooming roles for future leaders, women lose to men all the time. Most of the business roles for women are in human resources or investor relations which are not considered as important as P&L positions. Also, these roles do not lead to higher level positions in the C-Suite. By giving women more P&L experience, they will have a substantial role in the company and can have the opportunity to climb up the corporate ladder.
The Stay-at-Home Mom
Obviously, the business world is a environment where hard workers excel. Higher level positions, like CEOs, are notorious for not keeping a healthy work-life balance. Many women who want to have families are forced to give up their dreams for senior management positions due to the demands of the job.
It’s considered impossible to raise a family while having a successful career, at least until recently (see Marissa Mayer). And since women are traditionally seen as the main caregivers, an unconscious bias is created when it comes to working women, not to mention leading women. This bias is based off the assumption that mothers are inherently less competent and committed to their work.
Good news! This dynamic is changing as companies address their issues with unbalanced work-life demands. Men and women want more flexibility with their hours, and with advances in technology, we can see these changes happening. This would allow mothers and fathers the ability to spend more time with their children and encourage mothers to stay in the pipeline. Also, we are seeing more and more stay-at-home dads, enabling more women to go all-in with their careers.
Where do we go From Here?
It’s clear that there is a gender disparity with regard to leadership in business. Researchers suggest quantifying the problem so companies can reference key numbers when hiring, promoting, and assessing employee satisfaction. Its also a good idea to train employees what gender bias is and how to combat it. Both men and women can be affected by gender bias, and knowing how to recognize it and shut it down will lead to better talent and great successes.
The best way to encourage women to strive for leadership roles is to have relatable role models for them to look up to. And right now, there are not many leading ladies that other women can relate and look up to. This is why it is crucial for women to break through and start becoming role models now for future generations.
In male-dominated business, it’s particularly difficult for a woman to climb the ladder. For example, the world of finance is dominated by male leaders, even though majority of accountants in America are female as of 2012. There are a few ways for these female accountants to jump up in ranks. A big booster would be for them to get their CPA certification to prove that they have what it takes to get whatever promotion they’ve had their eye on.
Another way to ensure you’re on the path toward leadership is to find a sponsor. Mentors are helpful, but a sponsor will be fighting for you and your career. By impressing your sponsor (who can be male or female) and proving yourself to be a valuable asset to the firm, your opportunities for advancement only grow.
Jess Davis – San Diego, California – Jess has helped hundreds of students pass the CPA Exam with study tips and strategies on her review website Beat The CPA Exam.