Unseen Barriers to Women in the Workplace

Businesses have been striving to make forward progress towards putting females in leadership positions and striving towards incorporating a more diverse workplace for decades. Some businesses have progressed better than others as they feel that having a diverse workforce will help drive momentum for their companies to develop more well-rounded leaders. Other companies have touted their involvement in placing more women in leadership roles, but have not produced the results that some might expect due to unseen barriers. With so many women of various background vying for leadership roles around the world, it begs to question what is standing in their ways? Let’s address that question and much more in the following article.

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Women in Leadership Roles 

Men have historically had advantages in obtaining and succeeding in leadership positions due to deep seated cultural biases that come that view women leaders as socially inept in comparison due to the perceived role incongruity. From childhood on, men are told to display aggressive leadership traits whereas women are socialized to be more responsible, nurturing, and attentive to the needs of others than men are. Women are taught to be more gracious, encouraging, and focus more on outward appearances rather than the substance of their actions. This gender socialization norms were never really addressed until the women’s movement of the late 20th century when women were given the independence to partake in university-level education and not be discriminated in the workplace based on their gender.

Women remain greatly underrepresented in leadership roles around the world even though they comprise at least 40% of the workforce in 80 countries. It isn’t as if women are not capable of taking on these roles either. Studies have shown time and again that women are better at approaching leadership succession and changes in the workplace while also excelling at transmitting values to the next generation of leaders. These shared leadership qualities that women naturally possess are being sought after more and more by organizations who crave to make a difference in the world past the boardroom.

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Workplace Diversity 

Today, only 26 women (5.4%) are in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies (a figure that is an all-time high in the U.S.). The U.S. prides itself on holding the 5th ranking in the world in business leadership, but sadly, it remains 24th in the world in terms of overall female leadership. Women also only comprise 35% of the average company’s workforce at the professional level. But that female representation declines as career level rises because of women leaving the workforce entirely due to family changes, lack of career advancement or even outright discrimination. If gender equality in the labor force isn’t taken more seriously, it could add up costing the global economy over $28 trillion by 2025.

The issue of gender equality for women in general is one thing, but when you factor in workplace race diversity into the equation of the lack of female leadership roles, we see a profound picture that needs to be addressed much more rapidly. The U.S. Census reported in 2017 that 50.8% of the population is female and that the Black population made up 13.4% of the U.S. population while the Hispanic population comprised 18.1% of the population. Just 3 years prior, only 18 of the 1,200 US citizens that earned a PhDs in mathematics were African American (12 men and 6 women). In the 30 years leading up to 2012, only 66 African American women and 106 Latinas earned PhDs in physics, whereas over 22,000 White men earned their PhDs in physics.

Even when women earn these types of highly technical degrees, the workforce they enter is predominantly male. One industry that is in dire need of female leaders is the technology industry where women fill only 25% percent of computing-related occupations and approximately 90% of software developers are men. This level of female underrepresentation in the industry has led to women leaving the field at a 45% higher rate than men in recent years. To circumvent these barriers to entry for women, leaders of all genders must take the time to engage and empower young females to strive for success in areas that interest them and support them through their journey to their future leadership roles.

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