Gender Equality Challenges in Leadership and How to Overcome Them

by Chandler Barr Nov 28,2022

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

Gender Equality at work

Did your Director just thrust his hand toward your face while you were speaking in a board meeting? Was this just to get the POV of your male colleague? We have all been there. The humiliation. The sheer unprofessionalism of that one solitary gesture. Yes, you guessed it right. Today, in this blog, we are going to dive head-on to unravel the five major gender equality challenges women leaders face in today’s global economy. We shall also try to find tips and tricks to combat these challenges and triumph!

The prejudice and discrimination, silent and sinister, have created gigantic hurdles for female leaders everywhere. In an idyllic statement, Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook, professed that “In future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” But how far are we from that idealistic world? Why is that Utopia, where there are no gender equality challenges, still a distant dream?

Why is there such a blatant gap in employment in the workforce between men and women?

World Population Prospects 2022, the official report from the UN, stated that there are going to be 8 billion people on this planet. And it turned out to be true. Think about it. 8 billion people. But according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 published by the World Economic Forum, only 36.9% of women were hired into leadership roles in 2022, a mere 3% increase from 33.3% in 2016. 

Why to this day do such rampant gender equality challenges abound?

The global women leaders summit organized by GIWPS and The Rockefeller Foundation on June 20-23, 2022 addressed the urgent need for action to advance gender equity. One of the signatories, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, announced that “Women leaders are a catalyst for change.” But this begs the question that why is the percentage of these catalysts so low in the global workforce? 

A report published in 2021 highlighted that the industries with the lowest share of female representation in the overall makeup of the industry were Technology, Agriculture, Energy, Supply Chain and Transportation, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure. 

Why is it that when it comes to hiring women in leadership roles, organizations take a one-step-ahead-and-two-steps-back approach?

 Let’s dive right into the heart of these problems and work our way through the tips to combat the challenges.

Five major gender equality challenges in leadership

The Vicious Loop of Bias-Prejudice-Discrimination

The biggest hurdles many female leaders face are bias, gender stereotypes, and preconceived attitudes about female capabilities. It can also be the manifestation of a socially conditioned brain thinking, “Oh! She’s just a woman. Women can’t lead.”

Prejudice against female employees is fatal in management and leadership spheres. It makes it onerous a task for female leaders to become women who climb to executive levels.

In today’s society, outright bias and discrimination are unethical and disapproved of. Many female leaders daily fight the subconscious judgment prevalent at their workplace. Therefore, they are often less likely to be promoted.

Gender equality challenges at the workplace

How to fight this loop?

Many businesses spend time considering how to bring in a more diverse workforce without having a clear strategy. Culture and organizational paradigms play a role in this. 

More than just laws and hiring procedures, creating an inclusive workplace matters. Everyone should feel respected, heard, and be able to make a difference while advancing their careers.

The single most effective action a company can take to encourage more women leaders is to foster a culture of “Conscious Inclusion” by increasing people’s motivation, awareness, and ability for decision-making. Lead, consider, and take action with the awareness of involving everyone. Business leaders need to walk the talk and lead by example.

Also Read: Building Diversity and Inclusion at Your Workplace!

Glaring Pay Disparity

Women in executive jobs still make between 8% and 25% less than male executives in the same positions, despite the gender pay gap of the 1990s decreasing. In most firms, there are fewer female leaders than male leaders. Even in the C-suite, women are frequently paid less than men.

Even if equal compensation for women executives should be a goal, that alone is not the answer to this problem. We have Chidi King, Director of the Equality Department of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), stating a fact that women are still getting paid 23% less than men in the same jobs.

Companies must check the availability of promotions. Women are frequently found in lower-paid leadership roles. Because they have less chances to achieve “high-paying” C-suite positions, these female leaders are compensated less. 

Pay disparity in gender

How to bridge the gap?

Samir Modi, Managing Director of Modicare Enterprises, has shared an interesting two cents on this. 

He says, “Women bosses exude positivity and can handle immense responsibilities with great finesse. They also bring in natural leadership attributes such as empathy and display higher emotional quotient, which are absolutely necessary in navigating through the complex business environments that we operate in.” He also goes on to expound that one must practice equality at home to achieve it at the workplace.

The only way to master this hurdle is to make a stand. 

  • Leaders must create a safe work environment where any employee who has put in the effort, doesn’t shy away from reaping the rewards. 
  • People leaders and managers must be trained and groomed to be approachable so that no one hesitates to talk to their immediate supervisors. 
  • Business leaders have a love for data. Leaders should inculcate the culture of data-oriented analysis and discussions throughout the org.

Also Read: What Is Pay Transparency? Pros and Cons

The Arduous Chain of Expectations, Rising Stress Levels, and Burnout

One of the key insights that we have unearthed from Deloitte’s Women at Work 2022 report is that almost half of the women polled report feeling burned out, and 53% report that their stress levels are higher now than they were a year ago. This has, thus, become a major player in the gender equality challenges that we perceive worldwide.

Only 43% of people feel comfortable discussing mental health issues at work. The “always on” culture is still prevalent. Just over one-third of women evaluate their ability to switch off from work as bad or very poor. 42% of that group are concerned that their professional advancement will be hampered if they are not always available.

The question that pops into our mind is a resounding ‘Why?’.

Also Read: How to Foster a Positive Work Environment and Reduce Anxiety!

Why is it that women leaders and workforce are not able to adapt to and adopt this ‘hustle culture’ with aplomb? 

There are multilinear narratives to answer that. The major factors are:

  • There are frequently less demands placed on female leaders than on their male colleagues. Even in senior management roles, women are more likely to report feeling compelled to:

-Balance being liked and respected

-Overcome assumptions

-Deal with gender-related expectations

  • These lead to a constant condition of walking on a tightrope, especially for women leaders.
  • Furthermore, global research continues to show that women often have lesser career advancement opportunities and are less likely to be assigned “authoritative” roles. 

Even brilliant women leaders, thus, feel the need to constantly prove their mettle to survive in the corporate jungle. 

  • While the hybrid method of working offers advantages, such as the ability for many to keep the flexibility that remote working can provide, it also raises the possibility of exclusion for those who are not physically there. Nearly 60% of women who work in hybrid contexts believe they have been left out of significant meetings, and nearly half claim they do not have enough exposure to leaders, a crucial factor in career advancement and sponsorship. 

burnout at workplace

How to break this chain?

The major mantra to combat this chain is ‘Building a positive and nurturing workplace.’ 

  • Companies must set the bar high enough and control unfair demands if they are sincere about supporting a culture that empowers female workers. 
  • Women must be given appropriate tasks and well-deserved promotions to prove their leadership ability. 
  • The best way to promote career advancement for women is to ensure equal access to promotions and new leadership positions. 
  • Mentorship programs and development strategies will be a huge boost to their careers and network.

The Oppression of Sexual Harassment and Microaggressions

Yes, even after the mega-publicized and still ongoing #metoo movement, there still exists gender-based harassment at every nook and cranny of today’s global economy. 

Women who hold leadership positions are sometimes thought to be less deserving than their male counterparts. This may result in decreased collaboration and unprofessional behavior from people toward female leaders. One explanation for this is that women in positions of authority are more likely to encounter a range of unfavorable situations, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, microaggressions, unconscious bias, etc.

According to the Women in the Workplace 2022 report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 55% of women in senior leadership positions have experienced sexual harassment at work. 

As women leaders advance toward higher positions in management and leadership, they face the most traumatic hurdle of the gender barriers in the workplace, which is sexual harassment. This demon is like the mythical monster Hydra, with many ugly heads, like:

  • Sexual animosity
  • Undesirable body language or gestures
  • Derogatory statements or innuendos
  • Lewd and salacious intent and attempts

The Deloitte report divulges that the majority of women (59%) have experienced harassment (such as unwanted physical advances or repeated disparaging comments) and/or microaggressions (such as being interrupted or talked over, being patronized, and so on) over the past year at work, an increase over the 52% who reported experiencing harassment and/or microaggressions in 2021.

To deal with the harassment, many women are compelled to leave their professions, switch careers, or cut back on their work hours. Such behaviors could compel individuals to pass up important opportunities and further impede their job growth. 

How to battle this?

Business leaders worldwide need to, rather, should be forced to implement anti-harassment training for each and every vertical of their companies. But, people have a tendency to be deaf as a post to the message conveyed in training and workshops. So, conducting sessions won’t do. Leaders need to set an example. 

  • A zero-tolerance policy needs to be prioritized and set.
  • Lenient work culture and attitude toward harassment encourages such lewd advances more. Transgressors should be dealt with utmost severity and punishment.
  • Ignoring the victim’s complaint leads to a betrayal of trust and further shatters the victim’s morale. This should never happen. Every organization must have an anti harassment committee which needs to hear both parties and pass on fair judgment.

The Uphill Climb Toward Becoming a C-Suite Leader

One of the greatest gender equality challenges that our women leaders face these days is making their way to the sacred C-suite. More and more women are bagging the roles of managers and supervisors, but walking in the hallowed walls of C-suite in the corporate world is still a distant dream for many female leaders today.”, says Aishwarya Khan Bhaduri, the Marketing Manager at Engagedly. 

The glaring factors we stumbled upon, while doing a root cause analysis, are: the significant lack of mentorship and preconceived notions. 

Anyone who has held a position in a huge organization is aware of the value of sponsors and mentors in advancing one’s career. Men still outperform women when it comes to creating a strong professional network, though. In certain circumstances, women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. 

According to Dr. Konrad, an Ivey Academy professor, research reveals that people are much less inclined to recognize women’s expertise than they do men’s. 

Decision-makers at the highest levels in the largest, most-powerful business organizations continue to be men,” Dr. Konrad says. “Men prefer to be led by other men, and show a clear anti-female bias in their ratings of leadership effectiveness.”

female business leaders

How to scale up?

  • Leaders should drive toward helping promising female leaders break the proverbial glass ceiling and rise to the executive ranks. 
  • Every vertical in an organization should have advocates, mentors, and sponsors for guidance.
  • Women in the C-suite must not be reluctant to participate in discussions about modifying current procedures and structures in order to foster a more inclusive environment.
  • Each and every leader today should imbibe the mantra of ‘be the change to make the change’ and throw away all preconceived notions of gender bias that have been mentally conditioned since times immemorial.
  • A big no-no to the culture of patronizing the ‘little woman’. Gender equality will then be a predominant truth and not a challenge.
  • Women leaders need to empower themselves and remember that their worst adversary is equivocation. They need to know what they want and take the bull by its horns.
Also Read: Five Inspiring Examples of Coaching and Mentoring at the Workplace!

Final Thoughts

General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra shared her encouragement for women in the workplace by pleading with all women employees to “Find your voice. Have a point of view.” “Too often”, she said, “women are discouraged from speaking up, which can close the door to future opportunities.” 

Many businesses are ignorant of the gender equality challenges that women encounter at work. The only effective approach to learn is to evaluate the culture of your company, then figure out how to improve the culture and provide female leaders with the resources they need. 

Leena Nair, CEO, Chanel, equivocates that “to create a balance we need to change the men, the women and the culture.” Before joining Chanel, she was the Chief HR Officer at Unilever where she in her own words, “…feel especially honored in steering Unilever to a more balanced future. 

As a woman who has experienced being in the minority, I have empathy for anyone who feels marginalized. I take it personally.”

Employee Engagement

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the top five challenges faced by female team members?

Ans. Female team members face quite a few challenges at the workplace. A few them would be:

  • Gender discrimination and prejudice
  • Lack of acknowledgment for hard work
  • Opinions and ideas not being valued
  • Sexual harassment and other types of microaggressions
  • Anxiety

Q2. How does gender inequality affect leadership?

Ans. Women are seriously underrepresented in leadership. Authoritative roles in decision-making and management are, often, not assigned to women leaders.

Q3. What is the best solution for gender inequality?

Ans. Here are the top five solutions to battle gender equality challenges at the workplace:

  • Always assess employees based on skills and data
  • Eradicate the pay gap
  • Emphasize on having a work-life balance
  • Serious punishment for harassment cases
  • Proper mentoring programs

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Chandler Barr
VP of Sales

Chandler Barr is the VP of Sales at Engagedly and is focused on driving a culture of progress over perfection in a no-fault environment where employees are secure and encouraged to think creatively to solve problems. Chandler is a seasoned leader that has scaled sales teams for SaaS startups and multibillion-dollar publicly traded tech companies, as well as, led Marines to accomplish the mission during hardships overseas.

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