Find out why women are underrepresented in leadership roles and how you can address this within your own company. 
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The positive discrimination dilemma: It’s time for more leadership opportunities for women

17 / 03 / 2021

As many organisations moved to working remotely, traditional workplace structures like the rigid 9-5 schedule were upended as businesses faced a new complex set of challenges. Suddenly the boundaries between our personal and professional lives were blurred with many struggling to keep them separate.  

 

Although disruption was felt across the board, women were impacted more heavily than men, leading to a simplification of the gender imbalance. Many working mothers who have to balance full-time work with caregiving and home schooling were not offered government support and have had to put their careers on hold. According to McKinsey & Company, women were also more likely to have faced redundancy or furlough and as many as one in four women are contemplating reducing their working hours or leaving the workforce completely.  
 As a result of the pressures of remote working, companies run the risk of losing what women they currently have in leadership roles as well as future female leaders. While many have been working towards supporting women in the workplace and fostering a culture of diversity and inclusivity, more now needs to be done to accommodate the new pressures faced by remote working.  

 

Obstacles to female leadership  

 

There are many obstacles faced by women advancing in their careers, such as company culture and structural barriers that are deeply ingrained into society. At any given point in a woman’s career, she is likely to experience one or more of these obstacles:  

 

  • Lack of support or female role models 

     

    One of the uncomfortable realities of being a female leader is that you're often outnumbered by your male counterparts. An unfortunate outcome of this is that there are higher expectations on women to fulfil the role in the same way as her male counterparts, if not to surpass them. There are also fewer role models in similar or higher positions to reach out to for guidance and support. As a result, it’s hard for women to build support networks in male-dominated fields.  

 

  • Healthy work-life balance 

    Women in leadership roles also struggle to strike the right balance between their work and personal lifestyle choices, with many being penalised for being mothers or for taking advantage of flexible work options.  

 

  • High expectations  

    Senior-level women are also often held to higher performance standards than men and may be more likely to take the blame for failure, resulting in increased stress and burnout.  

 

  • Harmful stereotypes   

    Deeply rooted gender stereotypes, often unconscious, colour the way we think about women in leadership positions, leading to assumptions that women are more emotional and less able to cope with the more cut-throat aspects of business.  

 

  • Leadership roles are ‘masculine’  

    Similarly, there is still widespread belief that behavioural disparities between genders make women and men effective in different kinds of roles. Leadership roles are often considered masculine as many associate leadership behaviours with stereotypical masculine traits such as assertiveness, aggression, competitiveness and dominance.  

 

 

Benefits of female leadership 

Despite the current and even historical underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, female leaders bring a unique set of skills and attributes to the workplace that provide many advantages to businesses. 

In light of International Women’s Day on Monday 8th March, we have pulled together some key benefits of female leadership.  

 

Better problem solving 

Women help to diversify the group and bring unique perspectives, ideas and experiences that enrich conversations, leading to better business decisions. A true leader acts as a unifying force to bind members of the team together, successfully leading them to achieve a goal.

Female leaders are very good at building relationships, communicating and listening, ensuring that everyone is heard, and all points are considered when projects are discussed, planned and managed. They often adopt a democratic approach when solving a problem and understand that each individual member of the team is unique and brings their own set of ideals to a conversation.  

 

Improved collaboration  

Female leadership styles tend to be more collaborative as they are drawn to creating a company culture that cultivates fairness and justice in the interest of creating employee engagement and retention. Female leaders recognise that their team wants to know they are makg a valuable contribution to the company and to be recognised for their performance.  

 

Supportive company culture 

Female leaders are more likely than men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programmes and champion racial and gender diversity. Women in leadership roles often change policies that once turned a blind eye to challenges women at all levels faced in the workplace and help take steps towards gender equality.  

Women in leadership roles are more likely to adjust norms and expectations that are responsible for employee stress and burnout, setting realistic and achievable performance expectations for their team.  

 

 

How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace  

There are many ways that you can promote diversity in your workforce but a good place to start would be by reflecting on your current customs, rituals and norms to make sure they are inclusive. Here are a few points to consider:  

 

  • Address challenges  

    Address current challenges like those surrounding flexible working and adapt traditional structures so that they’re more sustainable for everyone. Embrace and adapt to the rapidly changing working landscape and measure performance based on results, not whether an individual is sat at their desk during their allocated work hours. 

 

  • Minimise bias 

     Take steps towards minimising gender bias and adjust the polices you have in place to better support women who are having to juggle their full-time job with home schooling or caregiving. 

 

  • Build an empathic workplace  

     Make mental health and wellbeing a priority and be more understanding of what’s going on in employee’s personal lives. Consider offering resources for home schooling and adopt a more flexible approach to working hours.  

 

  • Set realistic goals  

     Re-evaluate your productivity and performance expectations and ask if they’re still realistic during these turbulent times.  

 

We’re here to help 

When you’re looking to build a diverse team for your organisation or are looking to make a permanent or interim hire, Barclay Simpson can help you grow and provide ongoing guidance and support.  

 
We’re also on hand to answer any questions or concerns you may have about diversity or inclusion during your recruitment process, please give us a call on 020 7936 2601 or send an email to ds@barclaysimpson.com 

 
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