The Peaks and Pitfalls: Barriers & Challenges Faced by Female Leaders

Although there have been great strides in the number of women in leadership positions in the last few years, there are still many barriers for women in leadership. From a struggle in work-life balance to gender bias and stereotypes, women often face many challenges to make it to the top. 

With the UK having the second highest female employment rate in G7, it is important to understand what we can do to encourage women to aim for leadership roles and how we can help eliminate the challenges women face in leadership. It is not enough to acknowledge something needs to change, we must take action in making the change happen. 

In this blog, we will cover why women make great leaders, the challenges faced by women in leadership, and some solutions to these obstacles. 

  • Why We Need More Women in Leadership
  • Barriers for Women in Leadership
  • What Can Be Done to Help Women Become Great Leaders

Why We Need More Women in Leadership

Research has shown both men and women employ the same leadership tactics showing both genders have similar leadership strategies. Not only that but women actually perform better than men overall when it comes to common leadership competencies such as taking initiative, resilience and inspiring and motivating others. This shows women are more than capable at being great leaders so how can this benefit businesses? 

Representation Matters

By having more women in leadership roles, women that are just starting their careers are more empowered and motivated to strive for more. This inspires the future generation of women to aspire to aim for leadership roles as they can see it is possible. 

Additionally, to see women in leadership roles reflects on the company as a whole as this implies the company is supportive in promoting women to higher positions. With more women in leadership positions, companies come across as prioritising gender diversity and being a more inclusive environment. 

Improved Reputation  

Not only will the business be seen as prioritising gender diversity and inclusion but also progressive. With the need for more women in leadership, being known for being a business that puts this at the forefront is crucial when striving for progress. 

Innovation can also be increased. In order to have greater innovation, a more diverse workforce is needed. By not only employing more women but also promoting more women to higher positions, this innovation can be increased as different perspectives can lead to a more creative process of problem-solving and decision making. 

Social responsibility is another element of a company’s reputation that can benefit from women in leadership. By promoting equality and inclusion, companies can be perceived as trying to work towards a more equal society. 

Better Decision Making 

Other benefits of having more women in leadership include greater financial gain, better risk management and improved stakeholder management. All these factors are affected by better decision making.

The more diverse a workforce is, the more innovative the ideas and the better the decision making. By having a diverse team of people, more ideas from different perspectives can be created leading to a more well-rounded company.

This shows women are more than capable at performing well in leadership roles so why are companies not hiring more women in leadership?

Barriers for Women in Leadership

There are many reasons why a person may not progress into a leadership role. However, there seems to be a running theme towards the challenges women face in leadership. Due to stereotyping and societal roles, women face several barriers when trying to get promoted to leadership positions. Here are the most prominent barriers women face today.

Gender Bias

The most prominent challenge women face is gender bias. Traditionally, women have been seen to be caregivers and play a more nurturing role than their male counterparts. However, these stereotypes are less relevant to the present day. Nowadays, women and men both share caregiving roles but why do women face more challenges compared to men?

These “traditional stereotypes” have caused a mindset that society has adopted. This has resulted in males being the go-to management employees and management roles being more adapted for men. To pave the way for more women leaders, we must change the way we currently think of leaders. 

Struggle for Work Life Balance 

Work life balance is a prominent topic as after the COVID-19 pandemic, many people began to prioritise a balance between work and life. Although this issue affects everyone, this seems to be a greater issue for women. 

As women are more traditionally the caregivers, women also spend more time caregiving and doing household work when not at work. This leads to a higher chance of burnout which is why many women do not progress to leadership roles. 

Lack of Support

Many companies advocate for women in leadership but they don’t seem to take action on these promises. Women are less likely to:

Having this lack of support from management can lead to women feeling less motivated to strive for leadership roles and as a result, there are less female leaders. 

Commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 

Women that work for companies that have no Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives are more likely to leave the company in favour of a company that does hold these values. EDI ensures all employees are treated fairly regardless of their gender, race and sexual orientation. 

By having a commitment to EDI, women see the company as more progressive and feel valued. An EDI initiative is also a sign that women may be more likely to be promoted into leadership roles as there is a fair opportunity between all employees. 

Gender Pay Gap

An ongoing issue is the gender pay gap. In the UK, the difference in pay between women and men is £1.44 – £2.41. Although there has been an improvement over the years, there is still a significant difference between the pay women receive compared to men. Women are less likely to want to progress to a leadership role if they are not being paid fairly. 

Imposter Syndrome

Finally, many women in leadership roles experience imposter syndrome. This is where someone feels they are undeserving and doubt their own skills. Women are more likely to experience intense feelings of imposter syndrome compared to men. 

One reason for this could be due to the internalised gender biases women may hold. By thinking women are not supposed to be in leadership roles, a sense of self-doubt is created in a person’s abilities to be a leader. 

What Can Be Done to Help Women Become Great Leaders

There are many solutions that can help women overcome these challenges. Ranging from mentoring to encouragement, we have listed below some solutions to help break these barriers.

Mentoring and Coaching 

To overcome barriers like a lack of support and imposter syndrome, offering female employees to go to mentoring programmes and coaching sessions may be beneficial. By speaking to women who have managed to climb the ladder successfully, women may feel more empowered to strive for leadership roles as they can see themselves reflected in successful female leaders.

These mentoring sessions can also help:

  • Develop skills and knowledge in leadership 
  • Create networking opportunities 
  • Reduce gender bias 
  • Create greater relationships with the company 

Review Current Policies 

Reviewing current policies in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), work life balance and the gender pay gap will help encourage women to progress to leadership roles. By ensuring an EDI commitment is made not only allows for women to feel more valued but also would benefit the company as a whole in creating a more progressive reputation. 

Focusing on ensuring women have the opportunity to have flexible working hours is also important. Enabling women to have an equal opportunity to have flexible working hours will reduce the likelihood of burnout and increase the chances of progression into leadership roles. 

Support from Management 

There are a number of things management can do to give women more confidence in progressing to leadership roles. Here’s a list of ways managers can help:

  • Be supportive by providing constructive feedback and support
  • Offer opportunities such as training and mentoring programs
  • Give recognition and credit when it is deserved
  • Provide a flexible working environment 
  • Encourage female employees to attend networking events 

Women in Leadership Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main challenge women face in leadership?

The most prominent challenge women face is gender bias. Society has adopted stereotypical views of women and as a result, a more male-dominated management ideal has been created. To overcome this, policies must change in order to make leadership roles more accessible for women. 

What is the importance of empowering female leaders?

Female leaders should be inspired to ensure the future generation of female leaders have people to look up to. By becoming a female leader, women that are just starting their careers can see that it is possible to progress in their careers. 

Additionally, it is important for the diversity and innovation within a company. Empowering female leaders allows for a greater range of perspectives and ideas to be generated, promoting innovation. 

What do women need to succeed in leadership?

The most important thing to enable women to succeed in leadership is having the support from management. If there is support from management then all the other factors including mentorship and policy change will fall into place.

What are the benefits of female mentoring and coaching?

Mentors are not only great for increasing confidence and removing the feeling of imposter syndrome but they can also help motivate and inspire you as well as hold you accountable for your actions. By having a mentor, there is always someone there that you can talk to that understands what you’re going through and is always there to help you. 

What is the Future for Female Leaders?

Women face many different challenges when trying to progress in more leadership roles. From gender bias to a lack of support, women have several barriers to overcome to have the same leadership opportunities as their male counterparts. 

However, there are many things we can change to make leadership roles more accessible for women. By providing opportunities to enrol in mentoring programs, reviewing current policies and providing support from management, women will have a more equal opportunity to progress into a leadership role. Sign up for one of our training packages to start your leadership. 

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