Oswald Letter

The Women in Leadership Problem: Where Do We Go from Here?

by Elizabeth Petersen
This week’s Oswald Letter is a guest post from Elizabeth Petersen, a Project Director for Simplify Compliance.


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This much-circulated New York Times opinion piece contends that the roadblocks women in corporate America face come down to three factors: competition, loneliness, and “deeply rooted barriers.”

Do I agree with the author’s assessment?

In a way, I do—her piece is well-researched and I could relate to many of the examples she provided. Unfortunately, as complex and pervasive as the “glass ceiling” is, I think there are even more challenges that women with leadership ambitions face.

So. What do I think has caused the significant gender gap in executive ranks? In short: I don’t know. Approaching the problem from a different perspective, I know there were many reasons that enabled me to get on an executive track at a relatively young age.

This (nonexhaustive) list includes:

  • My parents who raised their daughters to believe that ambition wasn’t a dirty word and encouraged us to be unabashedly better-faster-stronger.
  • The ability to attend university without incurring significant debt.
  • The great fortune of working for progressive organizations from the start of my career.
  • A series of mentors (male and female) who selflessly taught and advocated for me.
  • A husband who not only supported my ambitions and who has happily borne much of our childcare and home/life burden.
  • Access to affordable childcare and family and friends who have helped us care for (and love!) our son.
  • A company that is wildly supportive of employees’ work/life balance.
  • A remarkable group of kind, compassionate colleagues who have continued to enthusiastically support my career growth.

If any of the above factors didn’t exist, I don’t know that I’d be where I am today. I realize how fortunate I’ve been, and I’m incredibly grateful.

But I’m frustrated that this gap continues to exist (and, by some accounts, grow). And since I’m not sure any of us can define the scope of the problem, developing a solution feels almost impossible.

There is one thing we all can do, though—talk. Debate. Respectfully argue. The more we can share and *listen,* the closer we’ll come to defining the challenge and developing long-term solutions.

Genuinely interested in hearing from as many of you as possible: What do YOU think are the barriers women face as they embark on a leadership track. And more importantly, how can we fix it?

Elizabeth Petersen is a Project Director for Simplify Compliance. Before her current role, Elizabeth held the role of executive vice president of revenue and strategy at Simplify Compliance. She also oversaw Simplify Compliance’s healthcare division, HCPro.

Elizabeth has held roles in HCPro’s sales, product management, and content development departments. Before joining HCPro, she held editorial positions at JBLearning and CCI Communications. Elizabeth lives in the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son and is passionately interested in corporate culture, innovation, women’s leadership, and caffeine.

E-mail Elizabeth your thoughts, questions, comments, and ideas, or connect with her via LinkedIn.