Despite making up 47% of the U.S. workforce, and 39% of the global workforce, women still only account for 29% of senior management roles worldwide. Furthermore, only 6.6% of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women. Although this figure is undeniably low, it has been heralded as a significant achievement. While any increase in the number of women taking on leadership roles is to be celebrated, there is still a distinctly low number of women securing the top spots.
The glass ceiling has prevented women from obtaining senior leadership roles for decades, if not centuries. While progress has undoubtedly been made, there is still a gender pay gap and women are still underrepresented in management and leadership positions.
To achieve equality in the workplace, it’s essential to understand what barriers still prevent female leaders from securing leadership positions. To gain an insight into why women are so underrepresented in upper management, take a look at the most prevalent challenges facing today’s female leaders:
1. Workplace Structure
As well as making up almost half of the professional workforce, women undertake the majority of work at home too. Running a home and raising a family are stereotypically seen as ‘women’s work’, which means females are often tasked with more informal responsibilities than men.
Even when both parents are working out of the home on a full-time basis, studies show that women shoulder the responsibility of running the home too in the majority of cases. This inevitably conflicts with their professional roles and may be preventing females from rising to the top of their chosen profession.
Few companies offer realistic childcare allowances, either in terms of finances or time. For working mothers, the conflicting responsibilities can make it difficult for them to secure promotions. Furthermore, the increased mental load that comes with running a home and/or raising a family is an unseen blight on women’s professional lives.
If companies were to introduce realistic and workable solutions for working parents, it would create a more equal workplace. Indeed, even challenging stereotypes and viewing familial responsibilities as applicable to both men and woman would go some way to preventing females from being disadvantaged in the workplace.
2. Boss vs. Bossy
Being a leader sometimes means making difficult decisions and taking a tough stance. The qualities typically associated with upper managers are stereotypically male:
In reality, of course, women can possess these attributes just as much as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, these characteristics are not always seen as benefits when they are displayed by females. Instead of being respected as the boss, women are described as bossy or overbearing.
In addition to this dichotomous approach, women suffer in the leadership race because the value of stereotypically female leadership traits are typically overlooked. Many leadership styles encompass traits that are typically seen as female, such as:
Despite this, these characteristics and their potential value in the workplace are often disregarded. With women unable to practice a more ‘female’ approach to leadership and being undermined for displaying traditionally ‘male’ traits, there is little room for women to successful progress into leadership positions.
Based on society’s view of female leaders, it’s not surprising that women often feel reluctant to apply for managerial roles. Females who have reached a point in their career when a promotion to CEO, CFO, CTO or COO is the next logical step are all too aware of the barriers and gender-bias they are contending with and will be forced to contend with in the future.
Given the lack of organizational and structural support, as well as the preconceived notions regarding male and female traits, society’s unseen barriers plant the seed of doubt in the minds of leadership candidates. This results in fewer females applying for promotions to leadership roles, thus contributing to an unremitting cycle of male-only leadership.
Studies have shown that women generally apply for leadership roles when they believe they possess 100% of the competencies required, whereas men apply if they believe they have at least 60% of the competencies needed. Many believe this is an example of a lack of self-confidence amongst professional women, which is perpetuated by a system and society that does little to truly breakdown the barriers to female leadership.
Smashing the Glass Ceiling
Although gender bias is still preventing women from undertaking leadership roles, the workplace has become more equal in recent years. Today’s proportion of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies may be small, but it is at an all-time high. While continued change is needed to ensure women have an equal opportunity to undertake leadership positions, today’s female workforce faces more opportunities than ever before.
Of course, it is essential that women have the experience and expertise to grasp these opportunities as they arise. Few people succeed as leaders unless they have academic and professional experience on which to base their leadership decisions, regardless of whether they’re male or female.
For business leaders, successfully obtaining a Master of Business Administration is, perhaps, one of the most effective ways to formalize your leadership credentials. As well as gaining a wealth of information which can be directly applied in the workplace, obtaining an MBA highlights an individual’s ability to successful lead a commercial organization.
Fortunately, tomorrow’s leaders can ensure they have the academic prowess they need by connecting with high ranking universities and graduate management programs on The MBA Tour. With numerous events taking place across the country, TheMBATour.com ensures that prospective candidates can liaise with representatives from the top educational institutions. In a world of online learning, potential candidates rarely have the opportunity to engage in face-to-face discussion with educators, alumni and existing students. By attending events on The MBA Tour, however, tomorrow’s leaders can directly connect to the people and organizations that will prepare them for a leadership career.
How Valuable Is an MBA?
Becoming a Master of Business Administration is advantageous for individuals who want to succeed in business, work in leadership and/or found their own company. If any of these goals are part of your career plan, then it’s certainly worth considering undertaking an MBA.
Currently, almost 40% of Fortune 500 CEOs have MBAs and many more have taken part in executive development programs at leading schools. Indeed, many people lobbying for leadership roles consider an MBA to be a pre-requisite.
However, gaining an MBA isn’t simply a time-consuming box-ticking exercise. The right MBA program can offer untold value. Giving candidates the theoretical knowledge, they need to lead successfully, and the practical experience on which to base their leadership style, studying for an MBA offers an unrivalled education in business.
Can an MBA Help Women Secure Leadership Roles?
Post-graduate study, in general, can offer a wide range of advantages when it comes to securing top job roles. For business leaders, the benefits associated with obtaining an MBA are particularly valuable and include:
- Better communication skills
- Increased self-confidence
- Enhanced credibility
- Improved strategic thinking
- Higher earning power
- More career options
- Range of transferrable skills
It’s clear, therefore, that anyone can increase their chances of being promoted to a leadership role by obtaining an MBA. For women, however, the increased self-confidence and broad skillset gained via an MBA can be particularly advantageous.
With verifiable and externally assessed competencies, female MBA graduates will not only be viewed as valuable leadership material; they will recognize themselves as successful leaders. Amongst the wide range of skills and in-depth insight gained during the course of an MBA, it is, perhaps, this knowledge which is most valuable to future female business leaders.