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Where did the headstrong women leaders go?

The number of female CEO’s aren’t exactly equal to the number of male CEO’s in the fortune 500. Of the 500 CEOs running these companies, only 33 of them are women. Some might ask, why is this a problem? It’s not… if you don’t care about little things like revenue, retention, and innovation.

Gender diversity increases productivity and creativity, it curates “greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and results in higher employee retention and satisfaction.” That is more than enough reason for any company to want change.

And yet, with all those benefits, “the number of female chief executives in the Fortune 500 declined” last year by 25%. 

For as long as I can remember, gender inequality in executive roles has been a topic of concern. And although throughout the years, women in executive roles have increased, the numbers are still minuscule as compared to males. As a female graduate early in my career, seeing women make up less than 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs (33 out of 500), is concerning. With such low numbers, how many inspiring women CEO’s do I have exposure to? Who will pave the way for me and other young professionals to follow in their footsteps? It’s bad enough that the fortune 500 has such low percentages of women CEO’s, but the story gets worse when adding ethnicities of women in management roles into the mix. Only “6.2% for Latinas” in managerial roles, “3.8% black women”, and “2.4% asian women”. 

We have to fix this now so my generation and the generations after me don’t have to inherit this problem. So what we can do to curate a more balanced and equal work force?

Driving gender equality in management

Women and men typically start out their careers with equal earnings. However, disparity in pay and the number of women vs. men in higher positions becomes distinguishable over time. At 10 to 16 years after MBA completion, for those that studied Business in college, men receive twice as much pay as women do. 

Gender differences in family demands

One reason for this gap is due the stress of familial responsibilities. According to Mahak Arora, many mothers have an innate desire to be a nurturing mother and want to tend to everyone’s needs. Meanwhile, men generally have a more laid-back approach so these stresses aren’t as outwardly shown. Mahak Arora attributes this to a natural dependency men generally have for their wife and mother. This results in disproportional pressures for women to manage their home-life, children, and work, and mothers end up at a disadvantage when competing for promotions and raises. 

So, what can organizations do to offset the different mindsets between working fathers and mothers?

For one, organizations can create an optional support system for moms (and dads) to share experiences and tips and advise each other on how to navigate these challenges. 

Additionally, to promote the balance of work and life responsibilities, organizations can set universal policies to allow for more equality for everyone, independent of parental status. For example, organizations should have clear, objective measurements for success for the given role so that everyone is evaluated fairly against the same standards, which will not leave room for comments like “I feel like she is always taking a kid to the doctor” to become part of performance evaluations. Organizations can also offer flexible work schedules and reasonable time of notice for after-hour events which will allow employees to better prepare for work functions (such as securing babysitters, dog sitters, or any other number of arrangements). 

Gender perception challenge

Gender discrepancies don’t end with parenthood. Women face many inequalities and biases when climbing the corporate ladder. A study conducted by Fairygodboss and Female Quotient revealed a pattern in same sex promotion, where men are more likely to promote men and women are more likely to promote women. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the gender gap in leadership. With less women in higher up positions, the chance for women to move up in job responsibilities is less than that of their male counterpart.  

How do we resolve this? Organizations can establish a rotational mentorship system. If everyone takes turns mentoring each other; women mentoring women, women mentoring men, men mentoring women, and men mentoring men, then mentors will become more universally invested in the advancement of both genders, and mentees will gain champions across both genders when seeking promotions.

And then there are the barriers of biases, such as, “sex stereotyping,” and women being seen as “deceitful, pushy, aggressive, abrasive, self-serving” when making her way into a management position. These biases aren’t exactly helping gender equality. Conversely, when taking the same actions, men are praised for their vision and drive. These labels affect how women vs men are viewed in the office and can negatively impact women who are competing for promotions. This is another reason why it is so important to standardize the evaluation for a promotion/job – replacing these harmful biases with an evaluation based on qualifications, such as skills, experiences, abilities, etc.  

Bring it all together to drive gender equality

While there are many more layers as to why the number of women in executive positions are low, we can slowly increase these numbers by being more aware of these issues and taking actions. Create safe environments to talk about shared challenges, establish rotating mentorship programs, and set defined standards for raises and promotions based on merit.

With gender diversity, companies can increase quality of work, revenue, and employee satisfaction – all reasons for companies to be more invested in gender diversity. And, as organizations look to engage career driven young women like myself, know that we expect equal opportunities and the support to someday, join the ranks of fortune 500 CEOs.

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