Why Women are Disappearing From the Leadership Trajectory

Blog | Career Tips | Leadership Development | Rise and Lead Women | Workplace Leadership
April 23, 2021
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Although research clearly shows that gender diversity adds to a business’s bottom line, the needed changes are slow to come to the corporate world. According to a report by the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University, the number of women leaders continues to decline from early management through the C-suite.

The report, which is based on a review of 185 sources, explores what it calls the “leaky corporate pipeline.” The term refers to the way women are disappearing from leadership trajectory at all stages of their professional careers. The phenomenon persists due to some of the following factors:

  • Women begin their careers making 20% less than their male counterparts.
  • Compared with their male colleagues, women are 21% less likely to be promoted from entry-level to early management positions. This statistic increases to C-suite level positions, and it’s even worse for women of color.
  • Mid-career issues, including family and children, affect women more disproportionately than men, often sidelining women when it comes to higher leadership positions.
  • Women have less access than men do to career-building support, including mentorships, sponsors, and networks.
  • Traditional gender bias continues to exist in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the lack of women in key leadership positions affects how younger women and girls approach their career trajectory. “The lack of women in C-suite positions is a self-perpetuating cycle,” states Deanna Strabble-Soethout, EVP and CFO of Principal Financial Group. “Because we don’t have many females in the C-suite, young women don’t see role models or potential paths towards executive-level leadership and are more likely to deselect themselves out of higher-level leadership roles.” 

This deselection may be one of many reasons we see a lack of college women studying male-dominated fields such as computer programming, engineering, and finance, limiting women’s career opportunities.

The report delves into how we can address and improve the abysmal state of women in the workplace. We cannot ignore the need for corporations, society, and the government to make changes, but we can be proactive in creating change for ourselves as women.

Here’s what women can do to work toward permanently fixing that leaky pipeline:

  1. Raise your confidence. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between confidence and success. That means that the wage gap is not the only problem women face in the workplace; there is also a confidence gap. 

Unfortunately, in many workplace situations, women are passed over for promotions despite being more qualified, skilled, and capable because hiring teams either place too much value on confidence or are not discerning enough in evaluating a candidate’s confidence.  

How are we to change this unfair situation? Frankly, it could mean a complete overhaul and dismantling of systems and long-held cultural beliefs that leadership is based on something as superficial as an overt display of hubris and charm. 

We cannot sit back and wait for this kind of change. Instead, women leaders need to better able to project their capabilities and skills. Several factors have contributed to this difference between men and women — like centuries of women being raised to believe that they have to be agreeable to be “good.” We have to work on being confident enough to go after our goals and ask for the salary we deserve without feeling the need to apologize. 

Lencola Sullivan-Verseveldt, D & I facilitator and office manager for Shell in the Netherlands, told us at Rise and Lead, “We should not wait for somebody to say, ‘Hey, you! That’s great!’ No. We have to step up,” she said.

  1. Find the key to work-family integration. Since mid-career issues tend to have a higher impact on women than men, women must cultivate skills in finding a workable balance between their careers and family lives. We need to create a long-term strategy to pursue the opportunities that will best serve our goals.

Be sure to speak with your manager about your performance, family demands, goals, and future with the company. “Leaders go through various stages in life, and that might be some difficult moments, or you might even have some challenges to make the decision or whatever,” Aylin Bumin, Marketing Director of Manpower, tells us in a Rise and Lead interview. “But I think it is important to share all these things and all these phases with your team openly and show that you are not perfect. It is important because it’s like a mirror – when you are open and vulnerable to your team, your team also reflects on you and then develops a trust relationship.”

  1. Support other women. I have heard so many women saying women do not support women. Women in the corporate world must work together to mentor and sponsor other women in the workplace. Also, women must not hesitate to ask women managers to serve as their mentors. Based on the report’s findings, an overwhelming majority of women said they would serve as a mentor if only they were asked.

According to Gail Blanke, the President and CEO of Lifedesigns, “Don’t just stand for the success of other women — insist on it.”

  1. Bring male allies into the conversation. Many women are accustomed to getting “talked over” by men in meetings or even having their ideas appropriated by male colleagues. But other men often aren’t aware of these microaggressions or biases in the workplace. Find and cultivate male allies who will speak out for women. They are out there, but, once again, women must not remain silent.

Simone Filippini, former Ambassador of the Netherlands to Macedonia and President of Leadership4SDGs Foundation, told us in a Rise and Lead Inspiring Women Leaders interview, “Let’s encourage women and help them become stronger, but at the same time we have to work with men in power by making them see that it’s a win-win situation — that they can learn better themselves, can have better results and become better leaders if they share that leadership with women.”

  1. Use Your Leadership Voice to advocate for yourself and other women: According to a study by Lean In, fewer than half of Black women believe that they have strong work partners. No matter what your gender or race, you can become an outspoken ally of women of color. 

At a Rise and Lead Summit, Emily Craig Graham, chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Fleishman Hillard, USA, said, “We must, as Black women, women of color, women of mixed race, recognize that we have a job to do once we achieve any position and that includes, and not limited to, pulling women alongside us and develop them over time, counsel them on what using your voice means, what that looks like. Highlight their experience, and ensure that they are heard in the closed-door discussions they are not in.”

Every established leader I have interviewed for the Rise to Leadership podcast has raised her voice to ask for more opportunities. But to learn these empowering skills, women need to see them modeled by other women.

Are you looking for leadership mentors or a support group to help you develop your skills as a leader? Find out how you can join the Rise and Lead Women Forum, a group dedicated to empowering the female workforce with a stronger presence, boldness, and visibility and amplifying women’s voices to help them become leaders of change. 

Ebere Akadiri

Ebere Akadiri

Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.

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