Why are women under-represented in leadership?
Today, men outnumber women in leadership positions globally, which is a major challenge. Although investments have been made to increase women’s representation in leadership, HR neither sees desired results, nor believes strategies are effective. Leading organisations realise that improving the representation of female leaders is crucial to business success.
Our research shows that there is little or no difference in leadership potential or ability between the genders. When women are asked whether they have the desire to advance to the next level in an organisation, 69% say yes compared with 74% of men. Yet, when asked whether they specifically want to achieve an executive position, 18% of women say yes in contrast to 36% of men – exactly half the proportion.
Female employees are aspirational, but they need to see the opportunities available on the leadership track, so you should create visibility for them. Additionally, female leaders voluntarily take time off work for family reasons at a rate much higher than men, so firms must create paths for women who temporarily ‘opt out.’
Our research shows that attrition in female talent is a gradual process; women account for just over half (51%) of the non-management workforce. This goes down to 40% for first and mid-level manager positions, 32% at the department head level and just 21% when you reach top executive level.
We are looking at a long-term trend throughout the career cycle, not an obstacle at a specific point where female talent is stalled. It’s the cumulative effect of microissues that slows or stops women’s journeys to the top. Employers need to address these challenges by breaking through the micro-barriers along the way. For example, women at all levels cite flexi-time as the most effective tool to promote female careers so consider making flexible working the norm rather than the exception.