Social Trends Women and Leadership [Study]Thanks to my profession, I get to meet and know many amazingly smart women who are equally, if not more, proficient than their male counterparts in terms of knowledge, professionalism, or leadership qualities. And they’re rocking it in the so-called ‘man’s world.’ However, I know that’s just one part of the whole picture. Gender disparity is still very much a reality in today’s workplace. In all too many instances, women still aren’t treated as equals to men when it comes to top leadership roles, they get paid less than their male colleagues in similar positions, and their contributions are often trivialized.

Gender discrimination in the workplace – A choice?

What really surprises me is that this sentiment is not entrenched just in our society here in the U.S. Women in countries we generally perceive to be more liberal face the same issues. Statistics show that consistently over the last few decades, working women in the U.K. earn less than men. Recently, a study by the London School of Business proposed that the pay gap experienced by female social entrepreneurs in the U.K might be a choice. The researcher cites two main reasons for this – women have less of an appetite for risk taking, and we tend to prioritize job satisfaction over making more money. While this might be one side of the story, we can’t ignore that female entrepreneurs are often discriminated against on the basis of their gender–another factor contributing to the pay gap.

Even in advanced nations, the male-female ratio in various organizations is strikingly disproportionate. The disparity is even more glaring as you move to the top rungs of an organization. According to a new survey on women and leadership by the Pew Research Center, most Americans find women to be as qualified as men in terms of key leadership qualities such as intelligence and ability to innovate; however, there are very few women filling these top roles in American government and business. Why so? Let’s look at some of the major findings of the study.

Motherhood is no longer an interruption: A shift in attitude

Previous studies highlighted motherhood as a chief career growth barrier for women. However, the number of working mothers in the U.S. is high and steadily increasing . Of the 1,835 participants in the new Pew Research, only one in five respondents consider family responsibilities as a major contributor to the low number of females in higher stakes positions in business and politics. Two years ago, the same survey found working mothers were more likely to state family responsibilities, including caring for a baby, as impediments to their career growth.

This change in attitude might be fueled by factors such as an increase in flexible working opportunities, and the proliferation of remote working and Web-based jobs. Today, many stay at home moms are engaged with the Internet through blogging and social networking. Some are turning their love for blogging into full-time careers, while others are launching online businesses. Our team here at V3B is a prime example of this—85 percent of our staffers are remote workers, working flexible hours fashioned around what works best for their family. That means that they are more likely to be working at 9pm than they are at 9am, and that’s fine by us.

At the same time, the survey also reveals that one in five adults think that for women with leadership aspirations, it’s best not to have children at all. However, the survey, not surprisingly, doesn’t reveal how many female respondents gave that answer. I think that would have been an interesting statistic, don’t you? 

Women have to try harder to prove themselves

Four out of 10 respondents think that despite having all the qualities needed to be at the helm, women must try harder than their male colleagues to prove themselves capable of handling C-suite responsibilities. This way of thinking, sadly, is deeply embedded in our society; female go-getters are perceived as aggressive or mean, whereas men are praised for hard-hitting business practices and a fierce drive to succeed.

Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, a Gallup senior consultant and lead researcher in entrepreneurship, and co-author of Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder, points out how deep-seated gender bias is still prevalent in society, especially when it comes to female business owners seeking funding for their businesses. She says that female entrepreneurs are less likely to receive financing compared to their male counterparts, which hampers the growth of their businesses.

Some years ago, I read a Harvard Business Review story about gender disparity in workplace. It mentioned a female CEO who participated in an important business meeting but the press, instead of focusing on the business part of the event, focused on the color of the suit she was wearing. Sad, but typical. When was the last time you saw a comment about what a male businessperson was wearing instead of what he was talking about? This makes me think about Chelsea Clinton’s announcement of an impending child and the pundits immediately speculating on what throwing a grandchild into the mix would mean for Hillary’s consideration of a run at the presidency in 2016. I’m pretty sure no one ever wondered what the impact of a grandchild would be on a male presidential candidate—isn’t that kind of laughable?

Will there more women leaders in future?

The respondents of the Pew Research survey don’t think so. If you ask me, I think women still have a lot more to do in terms of putting themselves out there and raising their hands. For whatever reason, ranging from fear of being turned down to not feeling qualified enough, in all too many instances women aren’t perceived as risk-takers. And senior leadership positions inevitably come with the need to take risks. Women need to do a better job of asserting themselves as risk takers – standing up for themselves, and asking for what it is they want. I say this as someone who is as assertive as they come, but who still has to remind myself on a regular basis to raise my hand and ask for what I want. What do you think? What have you experienced in your career when it comes to career advancement or business opportunities? I’d love to hear your thoughts – especially if you disagree!


Photo Credit: pandazhang via Compfight cc