Economic Challenges of the Gender Leadership Gap

A new survey reports that from entry-level to C-level positions, women workers are facing more barriers and advancing more slowly than their male counterparts. Even when training is made available, the opportunity for female employees to apply their skills and advance within the company may just not be there—and that’s a big problem not just for individual organizations, but for the whole economy.

“The Impact of Women in the Workforce,” a white paper by sponsor Skillsoft, summarizes key points of the survey in which almost 500 women around the world participated. Survey results both reflect and support recent research surrounding inequality in the workplace and the need for organizations to implement long-term solutions.
The survey results align with a recent McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, “The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth” that found, “Gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue, but also a critical economic challenge. If women—who account for half the world’s working-age population—do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer.”
According to the white paper, key findings include these insights.
The perception of women in the workplace is seen as imbalanced, especially as leaders. Most respondents (92%) agree or strongly agree with the statement that there is a lack of women in leadership. And 71% of respondents feel that there is not enough being done within their organizations to address gender imbalance, rating their company’s response as either fair (40%) or poor (31%).
Survey responses also align with what researchers know to be true in today’s workplace—men far outnumber women when it comes to senior leadership roles.
Only a quarter of respondents felt their organizations had a strategy in place to develop women leaders. Another quarter were not aware of any programs! While these programs may exist, visibility may be an issue. Therefore, a gap exists between what employees have identified as an important objective—female leaders—and how many organizations are meeting this need.
It is important that organizations have programs specifically aimed at developing women leaders. Just over half of the respondents (53%) said it is very or extremely important to have programs specifically aimed at developing women leaders as a business objective.
As one respondent explained, “It is important that my organization has programs specifically aimed at developing women leaders to see the potential of their role in growing the global economy.”
Most respondents do not have access to any formal development programs. This presents a huge area for improvement across organizations. Both mentorship and sponsorship can help women train to advance within their organization.
Recent research shows female professionals underestimate the need for sponsorship from within their company. “Having someone publicly put their reputation on the line to help you get to a higher level is something most women don’t see a need for,” said one respondent. However, almost 80% reported that hard work and long hours—not connections—were responsible for their advancement.
Organizations are primarily targeting midlevel leaders for women-specific programs. The white paper notes that it can be especially tough for female managers to rise to executive positions. Among Fortune 500 companies, women make up just 2.4% of chief executives, despite making up 46.3% of the labor force.
The largest proportion of responses (66%) indicated that organizations need to make greater strides and commit to developing women throughout their career cycles.
While development is needed at all levels, it is particularly important for organizations to assess how they are choosing senior leaders and what can be done to provide equal access for women at the highest levels of leadership. As the white paper concludes, “Organizations are investing in all employees—but what needs are specific to women?”
In tomorrow’s Advisor, we present three ways to close the gender leadership gap.