Women in leadership.
Photo by Charlz Gutiérrez De Piñeres on Unsplash

What Does it Take to Get Women in Leadership?

Cracked Glass: Will there ever be a female president?

In 2017, why is there only a crack in that “glass ceiling” keeping women from leadership roles? Why is there still an invisible barrier that keeps women and minorities from reaching the upper echelons of business and corporations in North America? Why haven’t we shattered that glass, swept up the pieces, and discarded the shards already?

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that over half of Americans still believe that there are significant barriers that make it harder for women to get ahead compared to men. It comes as no surprise that the results of this survey differ between the female and male respondents–63% to 41% respectively. With this in mind, will we ever see a U.S. female president? Will we ever see a balance of power between men and women and equal opportunity in top leadership positions?

Just the other day, I was lamenting to a friend about how difficult it is to find fantastic pictures of female leaders to use for blog posts. The vast majority of available images are of men in leadership positions. Similarly, most articles are either written about men or speak to the male reader. In the education system, I was surrounded by female leaders and I didn’t have to look far to find female Directors of Education.

Naively, I assumed that times have changed and that there are far more opportunities for women than ever before. I then started to do further research. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have made the kinds of advancements that I once thought we did. In fact, some stats show we have regressed.

The Historical Survey of Women in Leadership

A quick search of historical female political leaders revealed that out of the 210 female leaders listed, 73% of them reigned prior to the year 2000. Of the female leaders included between 2000-2016, there were only two high ranking female political leaders in North America: Canadian Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, 1999-2005, and Canadian Governor General, Michaelle Jean, 2005-2010. Canada had one female Prime Minister ever, Kim Campbell, 1993 (for 4 months). That’s astounding to me.

Global Gurus Top 30, 2017, had four women of 30 who made the list as top global leadership experts. None of them made the top 10 or even the top 15. Additionally, CBS news aired a report on the Forbes 2017 World’s Top 20 Billionaires. Out of the 20 listed, only two women made the list. Again, neither one of them were in the top 10.

What are the barriers that make it so difficult for women to shatter that glass?

A Woman’s Drive May be Holding Her Back

In a quest to find the answer to that question, I came across an article written by Daniel Goleman (2017). Essentially, Goleman suggests that a woman’s intense drive to succeed may be the very thing that’s holding her back. A woman’s Achievement Orientation Competency may overpower her ability to focus on the goals and the needs of the organization. This leads to poor performance.

The Achievement Orientation that serves a woman well in the early parts of her career ends up getting in the way in the latter part of her career. There needs to be a critical shift away from personal achievement and a movement towards excellence in inspiring others, leading a team, coaching/mentoring others, and really embracing the role of a leader and less of a “doer”.

Despite the fact that the clear evidence that women in high leadership positions are needed now more than ever, additional barriers still persist:

  • Overt/covert prejudice: There continues to be deeply rooted attitudes about how successful a woman can be.
  • Judgment: Male and female executives are judged through different lenses. For example, a woman is judged as “hard” while the male as “tough”.
  • Odd Woman Out: The higher a woman goes, the fewer females there are. You have to get used to being one woman among many men.
  • Low Risk: Because of our upbringing, most women are socialized to be low risk takers. We are taught to please, be nice, and to yield.

The Future for Women in Leadership

Progressive female leaders who seek to break through that glass ceiling must continually seek to improve, grow, and learn. They need to quiet the voices that say, “play small”. Authenticity and strong voices are needed. Women on the way up must have a thick skin and consistently receive support for the areas of leadership they struggle with. They must also be committed to supporting each other and the women coming up behind them if they are ever to overcome some of the deeply rooted barriers mentioned above.

Will there ever be a female president? I am optimistic! What do you think?