Breaking down barriers for women in leadership

The world needs women leaders - from running companies to running countries. Gender equal leadership will lead to a more inclusive and effective society.

Yet, even though women enter the workforce in relatively equal numbers as men, the rise to the top can be slower and harder for women. And, with global talent shortages at a record high that is almost double that of a decade ago, it is critical to harness all potential talent in this era of high-skills shortage and low unemployment.

From having good workplace policies, processes and support in place through to excellent benefits and a strong commitment to inclusion, here are some ways companies can aim to attract and retain more women leaders.

Offer workplace benefits beyond pay

For companies to attract women into leadership roles, they need to offer more than just good pay, such as employee training and development opportunities, good work/life balance, and flexibility.

And it's flexibility that is particularly needed, especially as many women still remain the primary caregivers and home makers outside of working hours, so it is important that companies understand and respect the wide demands often placed on working women. 

Break the male line of succession

A lack of women leaders at the top can not always be attributed to a lack of female talent. Many women feel blocked from senior ranks due to all-male lines of succession.

Breaking this line of succession requires reversing stereotypes. For example, societal consciousness needs to stop labelling law, engineering and accountancy as male jobs with HR, marketing  and communications being seen as female jobs.

Companies must clearly articulate and make transparent the specific skills and experiences needed for movement into leadership levels and should identify suitable mechanisms for helping women build exposure to the scenarios they need in order to progress.

Increase the diversity of talent in STEM 

Women at work

Technological advancement sees an ever-increasing number of new roles and industries, from AI to coding. However, the number of women entering the technology field needs to increase along with important training and develoment so they can fill the wide range of STEM roles available.

For example in the United States, women comprise only 18% of computer science graduates. In cloud computing, just 12% of workers are women; with engineering, 15%; and Data and AI, just 26%.

STEM jobs are often exciting, well-paid, and are at the forefront of innovation - so it is critical women participate and excel.

Companies need to ensure job vacancy requirements still ensure a wide range of diverse talent can apply so all groups can have access to future roles.

 

Seek employees who are willing to adapt

The world of work is changing thanks to the increasing influence of digital technology so employees need to show they are flexible and adaptable to change. This can mean breadth of skills and not always depth. Yet, many companies still require candidates to have many solid years of experience behind them, something that greatly favours men who have not had career breaks. Some of the biggest barrier to women's progress is an entrenched male culture that is based on merits created by men, shaped by presenteeism and defined largely by male standards.

Companies need to remove bias and barriers from interviews and ensure their assessment criteria are designed with all candidates in mind.

Encourage leaders to take responsibility for their actions

One of the best strategies for companies is to ensure current leaders take responsibility in helping to lift women up.

All leaders have the influence to instigate change, so it is important that the words, actions and decisions of leaders are fair and inclusive in promoting and encouraging women.

Leaders should ensure there are adequate policies and strategies in place to create inclusive workplace cultures where people's differences are valued. Such workplaces esnure everyone - regardless of background or identity - is respected, their voices heard and their actions valued.

So, let's all challenge the status quo to create truly inclusive and supportive environments where women can excel and constantly achieve their full potential. 

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