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Women in leadership

What is the current situation?

Though women represent 40% of the global workforce, only 5% of those occupy senior management positions (Source: People Management). Although progress is being made, women still suffer from what has been termed the ‘broken rung,’ the hurdle at the first step up: for every 100 men that are promoted to managerial positions (from an entry-level position), only 87 women are promoted and only 82 women of colour (Source: McKinsey Women in the Workplace report). As such, women are trapped in lower-level positions for longer and are underrepresented at each increasing level of management. This is due to a variety of reasons, though particularly to inherent prejudices and biased opinions—whether conscious or not.

The benefits of addressing gender inequality

A 2015 Global Institute Report by McKinsey found that increasing women’s equality in the workplace could add up to $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Indeed, according to their 2018 Delivering Through Diversity report “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” In other words, gender equality, particularly at a leadership level, can hugely benefit an organisation’s success.

In addition, gender equality is associated with:


  1. A wider talent pool: a Glassdoor survey found that 61% of women look at a company’s commitment to gender diversity, particularly within their leadership team, when deciding where to work (Source: HBR). Improving your EDI will give you access to a much wider talent pool, so that you can attract the best candidates for any given role.
  2. More varied perspectives: there are proven differences between the brains of men and women. Having an inclusive team can ensure that decisions are balanced and well-investigated. Indeed, encouraging diversity is associated with encouraging a wider diversity of ideas. Research suggests that diverse teams make superior business decisions up to 87% of the time and, conversely, that those lacking diversity are substantially more likely to make poor decisions (Source: Forbes).
  3. Increased productivity: research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that gender diversity is linked to higher productivity, but only when there is a ‘widespread cultural belief that gender diversity is important’ (Source: HBR).

What does gender equality in the workplace mean, and what can be done to close the gap?

Achieving gender equality in the workplace is an enduring commitment, looking to ultimately achieve:


  1. Equal treatment
  2. Equal pay
  3. Equal representation at all levels
  4. Equal promotions
  5. Equal working opportunities
  6. Comparable hiring of men and women


Though achieving gender equality is a process that will require dedication and time, it can, as outlined previously, have a huge number of benefits for productivity and output. However, women in leadership are swapping jobs at the highest rates seen to date, and at a substantially higher rate than their male counterparts (Source: WIW). Many women are undervalued, and underpaid, and as a result, lack the confidence they need to reach their full potential. Many feel overworked, with certain aspects of their work going largely unnoticed; according to the Women in the Workplace report, 40% of female leaders noted that their work for Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) was not referenced at all in performance reviews.

So, what can be done to begin the drive towards equality for women?

Tackle the ‘broken rung’

As highlighted above, one of the major issues that women face is the lower number of promotions from entry-level into management. Tackling this is rooted in addressing several wider issues: if women constantly experience microaggressions and unconscious bias, they are much less likely to feel confident applying for a role. Consider your process for promotions and remember that women may need more encouragement to apply.


Examine your hiring process

If possible, try to use a software that eliminates unconscious bias from the initial stages of your hiring process. Pay attention to the language you use in job advertisements: a study conducted by the hiring platform Applied found that using masculine-coded words—such as strong, individual and driven—reduced the number of women applying for the given role by 10%. Try to ensure that your language is as neutral and inclusive as possible—perhaps consider running your advert through a Gender Decoder before posting it.


Pay based on the role and experience

 As women are likely to be paid less than men, try to counteract previous pay inequalities by basing the salary for a role on the job, rather than the candidate’s previous salary (Source: Forbes). Consider setting a benchmark at the start of the process.


Foster a culture of feedback

Try to create an open and supportive culture, so that issues such as gender inequality can be discussed openly. Seek regular feedback from employees regarding their experiences and be prepared to adjust your organisation accordingly.


Prioritise DEI more generally

 Though the other benefits of DEI are plentiful (see: link here to article/resource), women are generally more attracted to organisations that prioritise DEI, hence it is a self-fulfilling cycle: by improving your DEI you are more likely to attract a wider variety of candidates. Be open about your DEI goals and celebrate your achievements.



Try to ensure that everyone in your organisation has had sufficient DEI training, but especially your managers. Be prepared to hold them accountable for their decisions and reward those that excel in helping to create a welcoming and diverse culture.


Create support networks

 Connecting women in a variety of roles across your organisation can be hugely beneficial for retention. A support network, such as a mentoring system, can prevent women from feeling isolated and outnumbered.


Identify your own broken rung

Take the time to investigate your organisation’s structure and processes, so that you can identify your personal ‘broken rung.’ Examine whether women are recommended for promotions at similar rates to men and monitor the outcomes to see if they are comparable. Collect data about every stage of an employee’s progression through your business (that you can) and use it to work out where the largest disparities are.


Though this article has focused primarily on the benefits of addressing gender diversity, it is worth acknowledging that this is intrinsically linked to the pursuit of equality and diversity more widely.


Interested in exploring this topic further? Why not take a look at:

Benefits of EDI - Complete this e-module to learn more about the wider benefits of improving your EDI.

Unconscious Bias - One of the main issues that women face daily is unconscious bias, complete this e-module to learn more about what you can do to tackle this. 

Equality in Law - Dive into this article to find out more about the laws regarding EDI in the law. 

Women in Leadership- A more in-depth investigation into the benefits of increasing the number of women in leadership roles.