Women in Leadership | 30.4.20 

We have all heard of the “Glass ceiling“; a metaphor for the hard-to-see informal barriers that keep women from getting promotions, pay raises, and further opportunities. Whilst thankfully we have dramatically moved the dial on this over the past decades, there is still a concerning disparity between men and women in the workplace, in seniority of roles, progression and salary.

The percentage of women in senior leadership roles in businesses hasn’t really improved in the last few years. According to Harvard Business Review (2019) only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women, and those numbers are declining globally. Yet, more recent research shows that women more than men lead in a participative manner, suggesting not only that women lead differently but also that they may lead more effectively.

Zenger Folkman carried out [Women Are Rated Better Than Men on Key Leadership Capabilities]

research in 2019, which conducted a study with their database of 360-degree reviews in which they asked individuals to rate each leaders’ effectiveness overall and to judge how strong they were on specific competencies. The results showed that women in leadership positions are perceived just as – if not more – competent as their male counterparts. According to their analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones; areas such as: Takes initiative, Resilience, Practices self-development, Drives for results, Displays high integrity and honesty, Develops others. The only areas where women were marginally scored behind their male counterparts were ‘Technical or professional expertise’ and ‘Develops strategic perspective’

There are of course many factors that contribute to this lack of women at senior levels. For centuries, there have been broad, cultural biases against women and stereotyping takes generations to shift. People have long believed that many women elect not to aspire to the highest ranks of the organisation and take themselves out of the running (though recent research disputes that). Lots of research has shown that unconscious bias places a significant role in hiring and promotion decisions, which also contributes to the lower number of women in key positions.

Other research looks at the personal traits of women versus men. Some suggest that women don’t ask for more – they don’t negotiate as well for themselves and don’t ask for extra perks and that they undervalue their talents and resist the technical stuff (the so called “hard skills”). Some reports also show women don’t own their power to lead and shy away from conflict in the workplace and are more risk adverse. Also generally, due to family situations, women tend to need more flexibility in their schedules and spend fewer hours at work than men which could hinder their careers. All of these of course are not insurmountable. They can be overcome and with coaching the ‘alpha male’, that is sometimes required for more senior roles, can be brought out in all of us.

Whilst the glass ceiling has cracks in it now, we have a long way to go before it is shattered.  Leaders need to take a hard look at what gets in the way of promoting women in their organisations. It is imperative that organisations change the way they make hiring and promotion decisions and ensure that eligible women are given serious consideration. There is a need for organisations to give more encouragement to women. Leaders can assure them of their competence and encourage them to seek promotions earlier in their careers.

At Sheridan Resolutions, we run Women in Leadership programmes. To find out how we can help, contact us at: info@sheridanresolutions.com