It’s hard to argue with the data. Women make up 53 percent of entry-level employees, 40 percent of managers, 27 percent of vice presidents and 3 percent of CEOs. While we are participating in the workforce, we are not advancing to leadership positions in business, and it impacts all of us.
We have a lot to offer in the workplace, and companies recognize the value that we bring. Keeping qualified women advancing through the pipeline is becoming a priority for many employers. The question is — what does it take to keep women on the corporate ladder?
First we have to look at why women are not advancing. A top theory has been that women were leaving their jobs to stay home and have children, but the data doesn’t support this. Most of us cannot afford to give up working to stay home. Women do leave corporate jobs, but usually for a better fit.
We tend to do most of the work taking care of kids, aging parents and the house which makes 80 hour weeks and business travel next to impossible. Having balance is a necessity for some and a priority for others. But it is not just mothers who are looking for this balance. Research has shown that work-life balance is a priority for many millennial working adults.
Companies with their eyes on the future are realizing that supporting these needs leads to higher productivity and loyal employees. Allowing for flexible schedules and having a plan for parents to ramp careers up or down around family needs helps retain both male and female employees.
Top companies are moving beyond the myth that having bodies at desks is the best measures of employee productivity. Technology has made it possible, even preferable, for employees to work from flexible locations and outside the traditional nine-to-five work day.
An issue that holds women back from advancing within companies is the lack of mentorship and internal networks for women. The lack of women in leadership roles leaves other women without mentors and role models, leaving us lacking the internal support network that men develop at work.
Programs like an organized mentorship program allows women the same advantage that the men have traditionally benefited from. Organizing professional and social events that include women allows us the same opportunities to build internal networks within organizations. Specialized leadership training is another strategy that can provide the support needed to advance.
Gender bias is likely the primary issue holding women back from advancing up the corporate ladder. It is also the most difficult to overcome as it is so hard to identify and correct. Gender bias is woven into the culture at work and our society. Rather than overt discrimination, this bias is the assumption that mothers will be distracted and not committed to their jobs. It is seeing forceful women as “bitchy.” It is asking women to always take the notes in meetings. It is assuming that men are better leaders.
This type of bias discourages women from participating and contributing at higher levels. Have you noticed that women are often interrupted or talked over in meetings? Turns out, this happens a lot and leads to women not speaking up. Even those of us who are not mothers doubt the dedication of those of us who are at work. But it also turns out that employers prefer hiring fathers.
Trying to identify and eliminate these assumptions and generalizations is no easy task, but it is necessary. Men and women at all levels of organizations need to be aware of their own thought patterns and actions and speak up when necessary.
What do women need at work? We need to be given the same opportunities as men and be recognized and rewarded for the contributions that we make. Those of us in positions of leadership need to reach out to provide mentoring and support to those of us trying to get ahead and organizational leaders need to plan for the future and keep women advancing up their corporate ladders.