By Oluwatoyin Embassey, Doctoral Researcher and Teaching Assistant at Alliant International University and Women’s Week Strategy Team Member
Women have been leading for years at home, in the community, and in the workplace. Women learned to be great at multitasking, solving problems, managing resources, and collaborating early. However, women's natural ability to lead is underrated in organizations because of gender bias and cultural stereotypes. With the increasing number of women graduates and participation in the labor force compared to the '70s, women make up half of the workforce in the world and 55.8 percent in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2021.
Over the years, studies on leadership and gender analyzed barriers women face in career advancement, outlining the effect of gender stereotypes and leadership biases on women's selection and promotion (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Heilman, 2001). Similar studies indicate that employment practices, work environments, and compensation systems are prejudiced towards women (Hoyt & Murphy, 2016; Yeagley et al., 2010). Nevertheless, actively women have fought to break through the prejudice attached to leading in politics, private and public organizations. As a result, successful women have paved the way for many more women professionals, with women striding in roles that were exclusively in the past reserved for men. However, although times have changed, cultural and societal prejudice persists as men have been leaders longer than women and are predominantly decision-makers in organizations. Hence, women need to work twice as hard to prove their competence and ability to lead in higher positions.
There is a need to integrate gender and diversity into leadership theories. It is becoming more evident that the women's leadership style is progressively effective for leading. Several studies show men's prominence preferred leadership style to be task-oriented, autocratic, direct, and competitive in their management style. In contrast, women are person-oriented, collaborative, participative, and transformational in their leadership style. Chin et al.'s (2007) study on women and leadership surveyed a hundred women leaders. And found women are ethical and transformational in their visions, sought leadership roles to empower others and achieve social justice.
Half of the global talent pool is women, an indicator that they should be at the forefront of the economic and social scene. Not just out of a sense of fairness, but to ensure that the absolute best minds, men, and women alike, are brought together to address the challenges faced by society. Organizational investors have also seen the importance of diversity in the boardroom and thus asked for increased positions for female CEO'S. Therefore, the increase from thirty-three as recorded by the 2019 fortune five hundred companies report to thirty-seven in the May 2020 report is a significant leap from the previous year but with only 7.5 percent women leadership representation. Also of mention is the lack of racial diversity among the 7.5 percent women in leadership, with many of these leading women concentrated at the bottom of the Fortune 500 list where the organization represented are smaller.
Achieving gender diversity in corporations at all levels is a long and demanding journey, which requires top management's involvement and strong commitment. The (McKinsey 2020) research on U.S. firms shows organizations with a diverse gender on the boards outperform all-male boards. They are 25 percent more profitable, and a diverse ethnic and racial representation organization have 35 percent higher financial returns. While gender diversity provides a unique offering of a diverse team, the organizational culture and policies need to support diversity and women's succession to leadership roles.
However, the 2020 research done by Mars on gender equality and what needs to change for more women to reach their full potential, with a response from 10 319 women across the globe, shows there is a long road to equality and inclusion.
The stories shared bothering on women's frustrations and the impact of the pandemic on mothers, caregivers, and minority women. And beyond employers providing extended paid leaves or childcare services, employers should encourage work/life balance by prioritizing mental and physical well-being. Eighty percent call for an end to gender bias and discrimination at work, 79% call for equality and career opportunities at work, and 65% demand authority to make decisions.
Similarly, the 2020 women in the workplace report by McKinsey and the Lean In. org company revealed that women in executive roles complain that their responsibilities have significantly increased at home. At the same time, senior management women that do not have children face some challenges. They are struggling more in this pandemic due to stress and more burnout. The emotional support for employees experiencing the pandemic effects rests more on them than their male colleagues—employees struggling with childcare, loss of partners, and family members. Women in leadership roles face various challenges, like discrimination, being held to a higher performance standard as mostly the only women leader in the room. These women leaders presently face more pressures at work, and the emotional labor is draining, unnoticed, and unappreciated.
Data has shown that women's access to the equity at work is good for business and society, but the stereotype, discrimination, irregular or extended hours with harassment at work persist. Thus, the gains over the years are minimal and show that many women are still not valued or heard.
Chin, J. L., Lott, B., Rice, J. K., & Sanchez-Hucles, J. (2007) Women and Leadership: Transforming Visions and Diverse Voices. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Heilman, M. E. (2001). Description and prescription: How gender stereotypes prevent women’s ascent up the organizational ladder. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 657-674.
Hoyt, C. L., & Murphy, S. E. (2016). Managing to clear the air: Stereotype threat, women, and leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 387-399.
Yeagley, E. E., Subich, L. M., & Tokar, D. M. (2010). Modeling college women's perceptions of elite leadership positions with Social Cognitive Career Theory. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77(1), 30-38.