Despite all of the progress that has been made in terms of women’s rights and gender equality, we have yet to see a change in the top-level management of corporations. A recent study has found that only 25% of C-level executives are women.
While this has risen slightly in recent years, it is still a far cry from the opportunities afforded to their male counterparts. This lack of representation in top leadership positions serves as evidence of the gender bias that remains a significant barrier to women’s career advancement.
While the need for gender equality is well-known and supported, making it a reality is proving to be difficult. The bias seen in the workplace is the result of corporate culture as well as societal expectations.
Women are entering the workplace in increasing numbers. However, they still carry a majority of domestic duties and are often the primary caregiver of their families. This can make it difficult for them to give the extra hours and time that men can freely give as a result of fewer responsibilities. Additionally, this imbalance at home often requires women to have an unfair and often unhealthy work-life balance.
Another area where gender bias presents a barrier is the societal expectations of a leader. Many of the characteristics that society associates with leadership are qualities that are often associated with males, such as aggressive, decisive, and outspoken. When a woman exhibits these characteristics she is either looked down upon for ignoring her “familial” role or that she is “trying too hard.” The line a woman must walk when advancing into a leadership role is invisible but there and it’s a delicate balance that is difficult to maintain.
Government policies have been put in place, as well as organizational policies, to limit gender bias. However, the issue is so deeply ingrained in other policies and procedures that it is difficult to prevent it from occurring. This is further complicated unconscious bias.
An example of how other policies are perpetuating gender bias in the workplace is giving maternity leave but not giving paternity leave. This subtle policy emphasizes the belief that women belong at home and men at the office. Even if the managerial team does not believe this or support this, these organizational policies and others like them are continuing gender bias.
Not having women in top leadership positions has a trickle-down effect that creates an even greater barrier for women’s career advancement.
Without female management, there is a support network missing. Men go on informal outings such as after-work drinks, sporting events, or a round of golf. During these outings, relationships are built with co-workers, management, and event clients that are included. However, many times women are not invited or included in these outings.
They are not included either because of blatant bias or because men simply think that women would not enjoy such activities. This limits women’s opportunity to build these valuable relationships that are often used with promotions and upward movement within an organization.
Many times top-level positions are filled by promoting from within. This creates an inequality when few women in managerial positions could be promoted. In other words, the candidate pool for top-level positions is male-dominated, thus, perpetuating the gender inequality within the organization.
A mentor is a valuable tool in career advancement. However, women often have difficulty finding a mentor, even if their organization has a mentorship program. One of the reasons for this is that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring or working one-on-one with female employees. This drastically limits the number of available managers to mentor females in lower-level positions. This number is further limited by the lack of female managers.
Fighting against gender bias is going to take effort from both males and females at all levels of the organization. Women must stand up and demand what is theirs, while men must look at existing policies and stand for what is right. There are several things that organizations can do to help fight against gender bias.
One option is to offer flexible work for all employees. This can help parents with family responsibilities such as school pick up. Offering flexible work to all employees tends to raise employee satisfaction levels and can help employees have a better overall work-life balance. Flexible work may include remote work, flexible hours, parental leave, or even childcare facilities.
Another option is for organizations to completely overhaul their recruiting process. From job descriptions to interviews to the selection process. Care should be taken to not alienate women from applying with the wording of the job description.
While referrals can be helpful, organizations need to have an open mind and encourage referrals from different networks, not just networks that are predominantly white men. Additionally, by adopting a ‘blind’ selection process (i.e. anonymizing resumes, standardizing interviews, etc), women will have a fair chance of securing a senior leadership position.
Even though there’s still a long way to go in terms of eliminating the gender bias seen in today’s organizations, there is hope that progress is being made. This hope comes from the increase that has been seen in the number of female CEOs over the last decade, rising from 3% to 5.1%. Change is coming, but it is going to take a collective effort to help women overcome this barrier to advancing their careers and increasing the number of women we see in c-level positions.