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Training Magazine

januari 18, 2024


Tips for Demolishing the Glass Ceiling to Boost Business

Women represent well over half of the US workforce today. Yet they still account for a much smaller percentage of leadership positions than men. And, for women of color, the figures are even worse.

Despite making up more than 58 percent of the workforce, women in the US hold only a third of senior leadership positions. And, although research has found companies with women executives are 30 percent more likely to outperform other companies, only 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women – and less than 1 percent are women of color.

Online recruitment company Zippia says the two biggest challenges keeping women from leadership positions are that women are held to higher standards than men – and that many businesses are not ‘ready’ to hire women for top executive positions. Other challenges include women not having access to the same kind of connections as men – and women being less likely to ask for promotions and raises.

So, what steps can training professionals take to help break down some of the barriers facing women on the road to leadership?

Barriers to gender equality

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report highlights two key issues for organizations trying to achieve gender equality. The first is the ‘broken rung’ at the first step up to manager, which the report says is holding women back – with 97 women promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions for every 100 men. For women of color, the figure is just 82. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and the gap widens as there are simply too few women to be promoted to senior leadership positions.

The second issue is that women leaders are leaving their companies at a much higher rate than men leaders. For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors choose to leave their organizations – often because ambitious women face stronger headwinds than their male counterparts. Microaggressions that undermine their authority are a common problem – for example, women are far more likely than men to have colleagues imply that they aren’t qualified for their leadership roles. And they are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone more junior.

Unconscious bias training

Unconscious bias training is, therefore, a crucial first step for anyone responsible for hiring or managing people. They should also be provided with tools and tips on how to be inclusive and treat their team with equity in mind and not necessarily equally. There should be specific training for managers to guide their team members through their careers. Combined with clear HR structures and a system of checks and balances, this can help reduce the natural biases that occur in almost every organization.

Lack of prioritizing diversity metrics and goals, as well as a lack of managerial and human resources (HR) accountability in achieving those goals, are leaving companies at significant risk of completely disenfranchising women and other marginalized groups. According to the McKinsey report, 59 percent of Black women leaders want to be top executives, compared with 49 percent of women leaders overall. However, one in three believe they have been passed over for either their race, their gender, or both.

To address this, start by asking employees how they feel in their role and cross-reference that with how they self-identify anonymously. Are they experiencing barriers to progression? Do they feel they are receiving fair feedback from their managers? Business leaders can then build on that assessment by running talent velocity analyses, pay gap studies, and industry benchmarking to set realistic and achievable goals.

Prioritizing diversity

Prioritizing diversity metrics and goals can also help with the issue of certain aspects of women’s work traditionally not being formally recognized. Compared with men at the same level, women leaders often do more to support employee well-being and encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This improves staff retention and satisfaction, but it is not formally rewarded in many companies, making it harder for women leaders to advance. Asking managers to report on overall team involvement in DEI efforts as part of the performance review process can help address this.

Women’s leadership programs

Investing in women’s leadership programs also has long-lasting benefits – not only removing barriers for women but contributing to the overall success of an organization. It cultivates a more inclusive culture and recognizes that there might be more limited opportunities for women to develop leadership skills organically. Men often create mentor and sponsor relationships through work-social events or similar interests that then develop into learning opportunities through example. Conversely, women often don’t naturally forge these relationships.

There are a few simple steps to ensure successful leadership development programs. First, consider the cohort of women you would like to support. For example, if the glass ceiling starts at middle management, perhaps that is a good place to start. Second, not all content is relevant to every woman throughout their career. If the idea is to support women throughout your organization, consider creating cohorts based on career-level tiers, and select content sessions that can support where women are in their career journey. Doing this not only supports upskilling but also creates a network among peers as an added benefit. Lastly, it is very important to have executive sponsorship and include male allies in sessions supporting women’s progression.

Ultimately, organizations that are not succeeding in hiring, retaining, and promoting women are experiencing a lack of diversity and representation of different perspectives, ideas, and skills. The consequences of this extend beyond simply doing the right thing. They affect an organization’s performance and bottom line.

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