Women at the Forefront: Addressing the Underrepresentation of Female Leaders

The presence of women in leadership positions has improved over the years, but there is still a long way to go. As the 118th Congress began in 2023, we saw 25 women serving in the U.S. Senate, coming close to matching the previous record of 26 women senators sworn in on the first day of the previous Congress.

With women constituting 28% of all members in the 118th Congress, we have reached the highest percentage in U.S. history. Another significant milestone was achieved in 2023, with women CEOs leading approximately 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time ever, as reported by Forbes.

However, despite these new records, a survey by Pew Research found that 53% of Americans still believe that there needs to be more women holding high political office in the United States, while 55% believe there are too few women in top executive business positions. It is clear that work is still needed to achieve full gender equality in leadership roles.

Diversity Wins

TPR Teaching, an educational website, asked 92 business leaders, coaches, and individuals in higher positions of power if we need more women in leadership positions. The answer was a resounding “yes.” And it wasn’t about fairness; it was considered a business imperative.

“Gender diversity in leadership is not just a matter of equality but has tangible benefits for organizations, including improved financial performance and enhanced innovation,” Smita D Jain, a certified Executive Coach, Personal Empowerment Life Coach, and NLP Practitioner, told TPR Teaching. “The need for more women in executive business roles and high political positions is undeniable.”

A 2019 study by McKinsey finds that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than their competitors in the fourth quartile. Diversity wins, according to McKinsey’s research.

Why Are Women Not Adequately Represented in Leadership Roles?

There are several significant factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in high political offices, as perceived by many Americans. These include the perception that women have to work harder than men to prove themselves (54% consider this a significant factor), gender discrimination (47%), women receiving less support from party leaders (47%), the reluctance of many Americans to elect a woman to higher office (46%), and family responsibilities (44%).

Similarly, Americans attribute several key factors to the underrepresentation of women in top executive business roles. These include the perception that women must work harder than men to prove themselves (58%), gender discrimination (50%), family responsibilities (48%), the unpreparedness of many businesses to hire women for these positions (43%), and the presence of sexual harassment, which creates a challenging environment for women to succeed (40%).

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that approximately one-third of Americans believe that a significant factor contributing to the underrepresentation of women in top leadership roles in politics and business is the lack of encouragement for women to pursue leadership positions from a young age.

These factors suggest that there are systemic barriers and societal perceptions that hinder women from attaining top leadership positions. It is, therefore, crucial to address these biases and provide equal opportunities for women in politics and business to achieve gender parity at the highest levels of leadership.

How Can We Encourage Women to Take Leadership Roles?

In its studies, Pew Research indicated a correlation link between encouragement and action. Surprisingly, 81% of individuals who received encouragement to take on leadership roles actually acted upon it, with 38% doing so frequently or often. 

There are numerous ways to inspire women to pursue leadership positions, as shared by experts in business and coaching.

Educational Initiatives

We must provide women with opportunities to take on more leadership roles. This starts in education, where initiatives can help women develop critical skills such as public speaking and decision-making.

“Schools and colleges can introduce leadership programs that encourage girls to participate actively. Organizations should also invest in leadership development programs for their female employees,” Jain stated.

Yulia Saf, a female CEO leading a cross-functional global team of 12 in the travel industry, agreed that we need educational reform. “We must start with education to encourage more females to take leadership roles. We should encourage girls to develop a love for fields traditionally dominated by males, like STEM and politics,” she said.

Mentorship Programs

“Establish mentorship programs that connect women in leadership with aspiring leaders. These programs offer guidance, support, and valuable insights,” Jain said.

Nikita Sherbina, co-founder and CEO of Aiscreen.io, insists they have actively pursued an even gender split in executive roles. “To encourage more women and girls, we’ve implemented mentorship programs and offered scholarships in STEM, addressing the root of gender biases and discrimination.”

The business has benefitted from the move. “This commitment has driven innovation, improved decision-making, and expanded our market reach. It’s not just about gender equality; it’s about maximizing human potential and fostering a more inclusive future,” they added.

Promote Role Models

Promoting successful female leaders as role models encourages other women and girls to pursue leadership roles. Highlighting their achievements and showcasing their journeys can serve as motivation for others.

“Women-led companies and women leaders are often not represented in media. This is a serious problem because, from a young age, both men and women primarily see male leaders celebrated,” said Andrea Niles, founder of Prospera, a maternal mental health company. “This gives the impression that women are not and cannot become successful leaders and hold high positions of power,” she added.

Networking Opportunities

By building an extensive network, women can access more mentorship and support from other successful leaders. Organizations should enable employees to expand their networks by planning events such as conferences and workshops that bring together successful leaders from diverse backgrounds.

“Create networks and platforms where women can connect, share experiences, and support each other in their leadership journeys,” Jain advised.

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

“Establish diversity and inclusion programs that actively work to create a more equitable workplace culture,” Jain said, urging a proactive approach to overcome gender biases and discrimination.

Jain further recommended that workplaces adopt blind recruitment processes to anonymize job applicants, focusing solely on qualifications and experience. Additionally, implicit bias training should be implemented to raise employees’ awareness of their biases and empower them to eliminate them.

Looking Ahead

The underrepresentation of women in leadership roles is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. By encouraging and empowering women from a young age, we can pave the way for a more equitable and diverse future in leadership. As we prepare for the 2024 election and beyond, let us continue to boost female leaders and break down barriers for women in all fields, from business to politics.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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