3 Ways to Close the Gender Leadership Gap

Yesterday’s Advisor featured survey results detailing the economic challenges of the gender leadership gap. Today we present some ideas on how to take action to address the situation.

Recently, the relationship between women and leadership has become a popular topic. However, most of the discussion focuses on understanding the issue, instead of ideas for action, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which just released new research documenting why women are still woefully underrepresented in top leadership positions.
AAUW research found that, on average, most people have a negative bias toward women in leadership positions, even though women make up more than half of college graduates and half of the U.S. labor force, as well as hold careers in numerous fields. So there’s no lack of women to fill leadership positions, but females are still not well represented at the upper levels.
Based on the findings and recommendations in the AAUW report, Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, the gender leadership gap limits both women and American society. For businesses, the report details both the bottom-line and cultural implications of losing opportunities to a gender leadership gap, while offering a set of recommendations to eliminate it.
“This issue affects every American sector, every industry, and every worker. We know there’s no shortage of qualified and ambitious women who are ready to lead. What’s missing is opportunity,” said AAUW CEO Linda D. Hallman, CAE, in a press release.
“What can we do about it? Too much existing literature on women’s leadership wrongly asks how to ‘fix’ women leaders. Our report turns the lens around to focus on what society can do and why it’s important to do it, …”
Here are three suggestions from AAUW on what employers can do to help close the gender leadership gap in their own workplace.

1. Be Flexible

When women and men have flexible schedules, they can better balance work and family. These days, many jobs are not strictly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a specific location, and people have opportunities to work alternative schedules and to telework.
Organizations often say that “face time” or a set number of hours determines whether the work will get done. But when the focus shifts from hours served to the production and quality of work, morale and persistence increase.
When women and men can stay in their careers while parenting and caregiving, they’re more likely to have the tenure needed for many leadership positions.

2. Offer Evidence-Based Diversity Training

Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. Workplace training programs on this topic can be useful for increasing employee understanding of the issue, as well as morale. Many diversity training programs exist, so make sure to search for ones grounded in the latest evidence-based research on bias and stereotypes.

3. Try Sponsorship Programs

Mentorship involves experienced professionals serving as role models and providing career or academic advice. One step beyond mentorship is “sponsorship,” where women in leadership positions use their personal leverage and contacts to advance the careers of other female employees. Accessibility to influential mentors and sponsors helps cultivate the next generation of women leaders within a company.