A new report takes a look at why women hesitate when it comes to competing for top jobs. The researchers found that a woman’s desire to reach the top ranks has less to do with family responsibilities and more to do with her working environment.
The data shows that existing gender diversity had a big impact on how workers felt about pursuing more senior roles. In environments where men and women believed that progress was being made towards gender diversity, women were more likely to aspire to a leadership position. At such companies, 85 percent of women were seeking top spots. At companies that weren’t seen as making progress in gender diversity, just 66 percent of women reported such ambitions.
The stereotypical explanation says that while many women begin their careers eager to climb the corporate ladder, this ambition diminishes due to family obligations or feeling that they’re unfairly held to higher standards. A more nuanced view notes those issues can definitely be a factor, but the researchers argue ambitious women are also rational and respond to the realities of their work environments. This environmental effect can stall women in our communities too.
Why is it so important to get closer to a 50-50 blend of women and men in leadership? Research has proven repeatedly that having more women leaders actually creates better results. In one of the most recent and comprehensive of these studies, companies in the top 20 percent of financial performance have nearly 30 percent female leaders, while the poorest financial performers have under 20 percent women in leadership roles.
We need more women in leadership for so many reasons. The question is, how do we create an environment in which they want to pursue those positions. Here are five ways that we can create a culture that fosters equality and make leadership more appealing to women in the workplace and community.
Make me a mentor. A good mentor provides career advice, counsel during stressful times, and unwavering support. And you don’t have to be a member of the C-suite already to provide guidance to another woman. We can all build strong support systems, encourage and mentor one another every day. The benefits of mentoring flow both ways and both mentor and mentoree learn from each other. Successful women are guiding others through the ranks and sharing their experiences. Mentoring relationships can provide the boost to propel mid-career into top management positions.
Actively sponsor other women. Women with senior positions should keep an eye out for promising younger female talent and actively seek to cultivate them as protégés. It can be hard for younger female employees to break into a company, so senior women should make the workplace friendlier for advancement and help mentorees find a place. Younger females may hope to get noticed for doing good work, but they also need to find opportunities to network with women at the top, asking them to lunch or for a meeting to seek career advice.
Flourish with feedback. Feedback is critical for improving performance, but despite asking for informal feedback as often as men do, a 2015 study found women receive it less frequently. In fact, women are 20% less likely than men to receive critical feedback that improves their performance. Following established criteria and clearly identifying key issues and potential for growth will lead women to invest more fully in the workplace and move forward.
Opt for diversity and inclusion. Recruiting and retaining a diverse, inclusive group of employees makes an organization reflect the outer world. It also enables a team to develop fresh ideas and solutions to meet customer and community needs. True gender and cultural diversity requires promoting as many diverse, smart, talented, passionate women as possible.
Cultivate powerful confidence. When something goes wrong professionally, women blame themselves. When things go right, they credit others. Women are also more likely to be perfectionists who wait until they’re 100% sure of their desired outcome. This limiting self-programming, along with a lack of confidence, makes it unlikely women will apply or re-apply for an executive job or other leadership position. Being passed over doesn’t have to be a defining negative event in your life. See it for what it is – a moment in time. Rejection and success go hand in hand, and all successful women have received their share of rejections. How they handle that rejection is what defines them.
If you’re in a workplace or community situation that doesn’t feel female friendly, it’s not your fault. Just recognize it for what it is and keep moving forward. We achieve parity one woman at a time, so whether you have to work on your confidence or find a woman to mentor, remember that working together is the only way we will accomplish gender equality in leadership.
When women don’t try for promotions, they move us further away from parity and reinforce the idea that women don’t belong in leadership roles. Women must rise into top positions in order to achieve career goals and advance gender equality. It’s the only way to create leadership environments that support both women and men.