I started my career as a graduate trainee-handpicked by one of the strongest women leaders I have known, albeit in a forward-thinking organization. While I've been fortunate to have the support from several mentors, male and female, across my career - I've witnessed firsthand the glaring under-representation of females in leadership roles.
Case in point: I got the shock of my life when I joined a manufacturing firm as the 19th woman out of 500 employees and as the youngest person and only woman on the executive team.
In recognition of International Women's Day (March 8th) and the 2015 theme #MakeItHappen, I want to explore why it is so hard to get women into leadership positions, and get them to stay there.
Why aren't there more female leaders represented in today's workforce?
Google "women in leadership" and you'll see a running list of articles on the topic - citing statistics and in the majority of cases, a call for change. Everyone seems to know there's a problem and yet, we still can't seem to find a way to get more women into leadership roles.
In a lot of ways, this is a curious issue because research shows that organizations with more female leaders are more successful.
There is also high representation in the workforce of highly
educated women across a broad range of fields, and yet, their presence in top
leadership positions remains
stuck at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent.
This trend should be alarming to leaders everywhere - from boards of directors to executives to frontline managers.
So why is it so hard to get women into leadership positions and get them to stay there? To help answer that question I asked four leaders for their take on this topic.
The more we believe women leaders are emerging the more women leaders will emerge - Susan Mazza
As a leader you have the opportunity to shape how people listen and relate to women in your organization. If you want women to emerge as leaders you need to fan the flames of their leadership capabilities early, often and especially publicly.
It's not just about the confidence it will build in those women. It is also about establishing a powerful context for how others will relate to them. Consider that the more we believe women leaders are emerging the more women leaders will emerge.
We need to do more to demonstrate the value of women in leadership - Henryk Krajewski
In the spirit of IWD, it's not about raising awareness about the need for women in leadership positions for merely equality- or fairness-sake; but more so raising awareness about the value of women in leadership roles and the evidence that supports it.
Quite in line with market theory, I believe if we are to stimulate quicker change - and even demand - for more women in leadership, we need to get the right knowledge into the hands of the CEOs, executive teams, and boards of directors.
The 'right' knowledge is illustrated by the works arising out of MIT's Sloan School and Carnegie's Tepper School of Management (ref: David Engel and Anita Woolley) that shows a team's effectiveness is actually explained by the number of women in a group (more women = high performance on both cognitive and social tasks).
Women's skill sets, as well as including raw intelligence, includes a demonstrated difference (higher) compared to males in reading social cues and forming high communication relationships. Once we realize that we're likely to get more profits from promoting more, qualified women, it shouldn't take long for more and more businesses to want to get an edge on their competition.
Henryk Krajewski is President of The Anderson Leadership Group.
If you encounter a woman who seems like she might be a good fit for the role, take a risk - Laurie Ruettimann
Many companies say that they're looking for the best talent; however, recruiters and managers suffer from the paradox of choice and leave positions open for longer than necessary with the hope that the "perfect" candidate comes along. I believe that perfect is the enemy of good.
Want to grow the number of women leaders in your company? If you interview a candidate and she's pretty good, hire her. Invest in her. Develop her skills. Encourage her to grow. It's really just that easy.
Might she quit? Heck yes! But remember, most employees are capitalists and nearly all employees quit.
So if you encounter a woman who seems like she might be a good fit for the role, take a risk. Chances are that you won't be disappointed.
Make it easier for people to flex work and life priorities - Perry Timms
In the current climate, companies are still way too lame on the way they look after women who are main carers. They're probably a bit poor for men who are too, but as we know, it tends to be women who take a pause on careers or alter their ambitions a little to do the caring for children (and elderly relatives etc.).
My theory is the construct of jobs doesn't help this.
Jobs are STILL built around a five-day, 40(ish)-hour entity. Caring jars with that. Further, we have some jobs that are called PART TIME as in...being only part of something.
We should think more about people for what they can bring than what they aren't able to. If there were more of this mentality in organizations we'd have fewer issues around people flexing.
It is my experience that it'll always feel more difficult for women who combine being a carer/parent and bringing up a family and being a consummate professional. It is my opinion that professional roles shouldn't be dictated around their pattern or hours worked but skills and contributions made.
Five skillful and committed women working 10 hours each are likely to be more productive, innovative and flexible than one person doing 50 hours themselves.
Perry Timms, Chartered MCIPD is Founder & Director of PTHR
Want more women leaders? Develop your people and change the status quo
In that manufacturing organization I worked for years ago, I used to do health and safety checks of our CMC machines, and each machinist proudly displayed a calendar of half-naked women at their workstations, watching for my reaction. Instead of saying anything, I went out and bought a Chippendales calendar the very next day and put it up in my office. I was hired for that role to change the mind set about women in leadership. I was hired to change the status quo.
The reasons there aren't more women in leadership positions is wide and varied. If you want to understand and address this issue, then start within the context of your own workforce. How inclusive is your culture? How are you developing your people? How transparent is the process? Are women opting out of leadership development or not pursuing these opportunities at all?
If so, get to the crux of the issue by asking why.
Just because you and other leaders may not see any hurdles, challenges or roadblocks for women, doesn't mean they don't exist.
And if you don't think this issue has an impact on your business, think again.
Thank you to Susan, Laurie, Henryk and Perry for sharing your insights on the topic of women and leadership. Have a viewpoint to share about women in leadership? Please leave a comment below.