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Let Women Lead: Women's Leadership in the Workplace

4/1/2024 10:00:31 AM

The following blog was written by Jennifer Byrne, a Cincinnati-based communications consultant and performance and leadership coach, as well as a DFSC supporter and volunteer.


It’s been four years since the beginning of the  COVID-19 pandemic. Among its lasting impacts is that the idea of work as we once knew it has been forever changed.  

In their annual “Women in the Workplace” report published last fall, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org offer a snapshot of the professional challenges and opportunities for women in a post-pandemic society.

Counter to many of the narratives theorizing that the challenges of COVID made women deprioritize or even drop out of their careers, the report asserts that women are more ambitious than ever. The report’s authors note that 80 percent of women want to be promoted to the next level, compared with 70 percent in 2019. That number is even higher for women of color: 88 percent want to be promoted to the next level.

However, fewer women are being promoted into those first manager-level roles—resulting in too many women leaving the pipeline that leads to those top tier jobs. So, even before they can hit the proverbial glass ceiling, they face a “broken rung” on the ladder of success. 

For every 100 men promoted to a manager role, just 87 women are promoted. And that number is even smaller when looking specifically at women of color. The study doesn’t even look at the statistics for women who are coming from backgrounds of poverty, substance abuse, or violence—though we can presume those statistics are even more disheartening.

We need more women in leadership positions—not less. Building pathways to leadership that are equally accessible to both men and women is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business. Statistically, companies with high levels of female representation at the top perform better than ones that don’t. Women leaders are also seen as creating more collaborative, fair, and transformational workplaces

So, how can we work together to close this leadership opportunity gap and ensure that women are given an equal opportunity to ascend in their organizations? How can remove the barriers that are holding back women who so badly want the opportunity to lead but never get the chance?

While there is no playbook for addressing this issue, the American Psychological Association proposed these actions:

Identify potential leaders early: Beginning at the earliest stages of their careers, give women ample feedback, and support through mentorship, coaching and assignments that allow them to demonstrate their capabilities and build their networks.

Establish formal mentorship and sponsorship programs: Establish workplace programs that give women access to both mentors-colleagues who give them advise and support—and sponsors—those who go beyond mentorship and use their positions to advocate for an employee’s advancement.

Focus on allyship: Boosting women’s representation in leadership roles should be a priority for women and men alike. Men can be powerful allies in creating pathways for leadership for their female colleagues. Allyship can also be examined through the lens of supporting employees who identify as LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, or other statuses that often come with professional barriers.

While today’s statistics might seem disheartening, we can and must do better. With intention and persistence, we can fix the broken rung and give women the chance to represented at all stages of the career ladder—including the very top.