Barriers for women in leadership positions are slowly being broken down in the United States. Women currently hold 102 seats in the House of Representatives (23.7% of the voting members) and 25 seats in the Senate (25% of the total). Four women also serve as non-voting delegates from American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.

Two decades ago, women held only 13% of the seats in the House and 9% of the seats in the Senate. However, the “glass ceiling” has yet to be shattered in some business boardrooms. When it comes to business leadership, women in the U.S. have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go at many organizations.

Venus or Mars: Does It Matter?

Approximately 70% of women and 50% of men think too few females hold leadership positions in U.S. business and politics. This finding was reported in Women and Leadership 2018, a recent survey and report published by Pew Research.

Women are also far more likely than men to see females facing organizational impediments. Mentoring, which sounds like a positive thing, may sometimes become an obstacle in a business setting. That’s because men may be more likely to mentor other men than women, and women are more likely to mentor other women than men. Thus, it’s hard to break the cycle of male dominance. As inroads are made, women leaders may want to focus on mentoring the next generation of women leaders.

Despite such obstacles, most Americans generally see men and women as being equally capable when it comes to leadership, according to the Pew survey.

In addition, the majority acknowledges that the different genders tend to exhibit different leadership styles. Female business leaders are often perceived to have certain advantages. For instance, 43% of the people polled by Pew Research responded that women are better at creating a safe and respectful workplace while only 5% say men are better at this. The majority (52%) was neutral on this issue.

In addition, women often excel at compromising, which, in turn, helps promote collaboration and avoid stalemates. It’s widely believed that a woman’s give-and-take approach can help close deals and result in more effective brainstorming sessions.

Other perceived advantages cited in favor of women include:

  • Valuing people from different backgrounds,
  • Considering the societal impact of business decisions,
  • Mentoring young employees, and
  • Offering reasonable pay and fringe benefits.

However, men are perceived to be better than women at negotiating profitable deals, according to those surveyed. Overall, the public recognizes the value of female leadership in both political and business arenas. More than two-thirds say having more women in leadership positions would improve the quality of life for everyone.

Opportunity Knocks

Despite decades of progress, the disparity in pay based on gender has persisted. Currently, a woman earns about 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes, according to The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2018 published by Pay Scale (a provider of payroll software).

But it’s not just a “pay gap” that’s holding women back; there is also an “opportunity gap.” According to PayScale, women and men start their careers making roughly the same amount of money for the same sort of work. However, men are offered more opportunities to advance into higher-paying positions.

At middle age, men are 70% more likely to be in executive positions than women. By retirement, this disparity almost doubles.

How Women Add Value

Another study, sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, focused on diversity in the workplace. The not-for-profit organization’s study found a positive relationship between female corporate leadership and financial performance. It concludes that fair and unbiased representation throughout an organization improves operations.

According to the study, minority women owned fewer than a million U.S. businesses (approximately 17% of all U.S. businesses) in 1997. By 2014, that figure had nearly doubled to 33% of all businesses. African-Americans represented the largest women’s business ownership group at 14%, followed closely by Hispanic women at 11% and Asian-American women at 7%.

During this time of growth in female and minority leadership, there were no legal mandates for gender inclusion and diversity in the C-Suite. Thus far, the progress has evolved with minimal government intervention. However, that could change in certain parts of the country. (See “California Mandates More Female Directors” at right.)

To help bridge the gender gap, industry leaders — both male and female — must become agents of change. This may include mentoring qualified women candidates and helping them develop career strategies. In addition, mentors can help future women leaders set and attain specific goals within a definitive time frame.

How Does Your Business Measure Up?

Businesses without women in leadership positions may be missing the boat. A diverse management team is more likely to see problems (and solutions) from a variety of perspectives — allowing it to identify potential threats and opportunities that might otherwise be missed. We can help you evaluate your current policies and procedures to identify and correct possible gender disparity in your workplace.

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