Despite making up half of the workforce, women continue to be vastly underrepresented in leadership roles. The staggering statistics about women in everything from entry-level management to the C-suite remain virtually unchanged, even with all of the focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion these days.
Why, then, are women still struggling to find equal pay for equal work, a meaningful work-life-family balance, and still experiencing gender bias in today’s workplace?
The problem is the cultural and systemic challenges women face attempting to climb the corporate ladder.
The recent pandemic appears to have knocked many working women backward in certain ways. Women who worked outside the home and relied on their children being in school or in reliable childcare suddenly found themselves having to balance a demanding work/home environment, while additionally taking on the necessary role of homeschool teacher, in many cases.
“Women, at the beginning of the pandemic, were trying to do it all,” said Cathy Cotins, Founder and President of Thrive Advisors, and a Fellow and strategy advisor at Harvard University's Institute of Coaching (IOC). “Not only were they continuing to do their job in the workforce, but they were also continuing to do their job at home, without the support of the schools or the daycares or other systems of support they had in place. And what this exposed is that this largely has been an issue that affects women, and it is not just women’s problem to solve.”
This largely has been an issue that affects women, and it is not just women’s problem to solve.
According to the Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Company, critical work by female employees is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has concerning implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it’s hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t truly prioritized.
As a result, many women, including those in key leadership positions, are more burned out than ever before and are rethinking their priorities … and their jobs.
One woman, who holds the position of Senior Vice President at her company, said, “It's the only time I’ve ever seriously considered a less-demanding job. I interviewed for a job with another company. I just felt burned out so often. I probably cried more days than not. I felt caught in the middle of everyone's emotional responses. It (2020) was the hardest working year of my life.”
What can companies now do to attract and retain skilled female leaders amidst the Great Resignation? While most companies have committed to recognizing gender inequity among their own ranks, many have yet to take any steps to rectify these situations. How can companies better recognize the need for gender equity?
The fact is, all companies need to take real steps to identify the patterns that prevent them from fully leveraging women’s talents and contributions, and then use that information to make systematic changes. If they don’t, they risk losing quality talent and leadership skills to someone else. Additionally, implementing leadership training programs will help grow better leaders - ones who can encourage and actively propagate the skills of women.
If you offer coaching, you’re trying to change a culture and help each person identify what the obstacle is to them, personally and as a leader. Transferring that into behavior change is what coaching does.
Particular attention should be paid to addressing inequities in seven main areas of talent management: attracting candidates, hiring employees, integrating them into the organization, developing them, assessing performance, managing compensation and promotion, and retaining good performers, highlighted in the recent Harvard Business Review article, How to Close the Gender Gap.
The “traditional” work culture is beginning to change, thankfully, but perhaps not quickly enough. In organizations where extreme dedication to work is prized, and employees are expected to respond to email at all hours and basically “live to work,” these companies run the risk of minimizing a necessary work/life balance of its valuable employees, thus putting the company’s growth at risk when those talented employees decide their skills would be more appreciated somewhere else.
All employees of a business, both men and women, from executive leaders and those on all rungs of the company ladder, hold a stake in fostering equality in the workplace. As a manager, you can enable and encourage women to deliver the results of which they’re truly capable. This will help facilitate not only their success but yours as well. And leadership coaching is an important tool to have in a managerial or executive-level toolbox to help a company, and its leaders, achieve the results they seek especially in work from home and hybrid environments.
“If you offer coaching, you’re trying to change a culture and help each person identify what the obstacle is to them, personally and as a leader,” Cotins said. “Transferring that into behavior change is what coaching does.”
Women should continuously be able (and expected) to break through that glass ceiling until there is no more ceiling. With a systemic approach, you can finally shatter the barriers that keep women, and your company, from thriving.