Continuing the series of articles on Women in Leadership, today we focus on the barriers faced with increasing Women’s participation in leadership and decision-making.
Before we look at potential solutions to the barriers faced with increasing women’s participation in leadership and decision making, we must first identify what these barriers actually are.
What are the barriers to women’s participation in leadership?
- Gender Bias
One of the reasons there are not enough women in leadership roles is because women are often discriminated against in the workplace, and it is especially true for those in leadership positions. They have a much lower chance of being hired and leading a team, as well as being disproportionately likely to be fired from the position once they attain the role.
This is global problem, not just a UK problem, with blatant gender bias in some countries seen as an acceptable cultural norm. Many believe this discrimination comes from the belief women are less competent than men as leaders. Research, however, refutes this and there is in fact no difference in competence between female and male leaders.
There are many reasons for this type of discrimination such as unconscious bias, which results in a tendency to only hire or promote someone who look like them or think like them.
Another reason is that it is painfully apparent that some in our society still feel threatened by powerful women.
Another consideration is there could also be some other underlying causes that we do not yet understand or recognise.
Unconscious Gender bias is baked into our society, culture, and idiolect. Here is a little test you can do yourself to demonstrate it, which is a common idiolectic trait we all exhibit.
When referring to salutations of married couple, we say – “Mr and Mrs” not “Mrs and Mr” and describing gender roles we say – “male and female” not “female and male”. When we say these placing the female label first, our brain tells us “That’s the wrong way round and doesn’t sound right”.
We deliberately did this a few sentences ago – “Research, however, refutes this and there is in fact no difference in competence between female and male leaders.” When you read that sentence, your brain subconsciously read it the other way round – as we said – baked in…
- The Lack of Female Role Models
The lack of female role models at work can be a barrier for women’s success. When entry level employees see women in leadership at their organisations, it sends a clear message that they too can reach the top and can motivate them to pursue it. This will encourage emerging leaders to see themselves as capable and see their goals as achievable.
Organisations should be actively supporting emerging female leaders and providing them with professional development programmes by experts with experience in what it takes to become women in leadership.
- Negative Stereotypes about Women Leaders
There is a common misconception that – women are less assertive than men.
There is a common misconception that – women have lower confidence levels than men.
There is a common misconception that – women have inferior people management skills.
It’s true that women are less likely to negotiate their salary, but this is because they’re less likely to be offered the opportunity. When they are asked, they’re just as likely to ask for more money as men. – Forbes
However, a quick comparison revels these misconceptions are just poor generalisations. Let’s try this one – Boris Johnson is more assertive and has better people management skills than Margret Thatcher did. Laughable, isn’t it?
How Can We Address These Issues? – Policy Recommendations
The lack of gender equity in the workplace is a problem that has been around for decades. Whilst many nations have codified some of these recommendations into law, until this is a global norm, then women will always be in a minority when it comes to women in leadership roles.
In order to address these issues, there are three policy recommendations that can be taken into consideration:
The first recommendation is to enforce equal pay for equal work. This means that if two people are doing the same job, they should be paid the same amount regardless of their gender.
The second recommendation is to eliminate gender discrimination in hiring and promotion practices. This means that if a person applies for a job and they are qualified, then they should not be discriminated against because of their gender.
The third recommendation is to provide training and educational opportunities for women in leadership so that they have the opportunity to pursue jobs with higher compensation in fields where women are underrepresented such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and healthcare.