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Women in Leadership: 3 Gender Equality Challenges Employers Must Overcome

Women in Leadership: 3 Gender Equality Challenges Employers Must Overcome

While gender equality in the workforce has made improvements over the past several decades, there is still an obvious disparity of women in leadership in the corporate world.

Some argue it’s a top-down issue, in which male-dominated leadership structures have no commitment to putting women in high-power positions. But this isn’t necessarily true. With a recent study showing the bottom-line benefits of a gender-diverse workforce, many companies are eager to address the problem. Yet, they spin their wheels identifying the causes.

Gender Equality Challenge #1 – Recruiting and Hiring

Outdated recruiting and hiring policies are some of the largest systematic barriers to improving gender equality. Particularly in male-dominated industries, it’s crucial for a company to position itself as an employer that is attractive to female candidates.

Even if women make it to the interview stage, hiring decision makers can—whether they realize it or not—decrease the likelihood of a female landing the job. From unconscious bias to unstructured (and downright unproductive) interviewing, organizations are largely unaware of their own self-sabotaging hiring practices.

Possible Solutions

    • Openly discuss how individual biases impact hiring decisions.
    • Use gender-neutral language in job postings and post to multiple sites to maximize candidate exposure.
    • Implement blind résumé reviews and standardize the interview process by creating a checklist to evaluate candidates.
    • Require at least two female candidates in each interview pool.

Gender Equality Challenge #2 – Internal Leadership Development

While a leadership development program may be in place, it’s likely ineffective at providing growth opportunities to women. Many female employees indicate that leadership development in their own careers has consisted of informational interviews and feedback but little else. In her observations, our own CEO Lauren Herring notes that “women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored.” 

But what is sponsorship? Sponsoring is less concerned about providing career guidance and advice and more focused on giving an employee access or exposure to executives. In fact, sponsors actively advocate for the inclusion of an employee in innovative projects. They frequently speak of the employee’s potential in front of other leaders.

Possible Solutions

    • Address what leadership attributes are valued within the organization and whether there is an implicit bias against women beneath the surface.
    • Evaluate the leadership development program to ensure it effectively encourages involvement from female employees.
    • Tap executive or senior leaders to not just mentor but sponsor and advocate for up-and-coming women.

Gender Equality Challenge #3 – Workplace Culture

Within many industries, building relationships—whether internally with co-workers and externally with clients—revolves around networking and professional outings. These are often steeped in a boys’ club culture. While some women don’t blink an eye at attending a sporting event or a driving range, others take this as an unwelcoming sign. In fact, many women feel they miss out on career opportunities because of long-standing corporate culture practices.

Humans naturally want to spend time and build relationships with those who share their interests and point of view. However, this often results in a one-sided perspective and a detriment to business success. Ensure women feel accepted and welcomed in an organization’s culture. This opens the door to innovative ideas.

Possible Solutions

    • Consider changing the ways in which customer relationships are built, even if that’s how it’s always been done.
    • Vary activities and set expectations for appropriate work-sponsored outings.
    • Encourage both genders to invite each other to events and gatherings.

While the issues above may not start at the top, there is still a place for securing buy-in at every organizational level to remove these barriers. Executives and senior leaders champion change. Show your commitment to overcoming pitfalls and moving the needle on gender equality.

How does your company stack up? Check out IMPACT’s free workbook or checklist to assess your company’s gender diversity or learn more about our Women in Leadership program.

Battle of the Sexes: Facts About Gender in the Job Search, MedRep.com
If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired, HBR.com
How to Keep Bias Out of the Hiring Process, Quartz at Work
Why Employers Favor Men, Harvard Business School
Gender Barriers and Solutions to Leadership,Training Industry
How to Navigate a Boys’ Club Culture, Forbes.com

Contribution by Misty Milliron-Grant.

Misty Milliron-Grant is a Senior Résumé Writer/Mentor at IMPACT Group. She also researches and develops content on a wide range of topics for IMPACT Group’s blog. 

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