How Women Leadership Gap Can Close With Personal to Policy Steps

At Rutgers University-Camden, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, director of the Community Leadership Center and tenured faculty, says because of the environments that can obstruct a clear path for women to the top, her best advice to any woman leader is to hone resilience. However you measure leadership and in what field or discipline, a distinct women leadership gap exists in this country and around the world.The shortfalls arrive in ways you can point to and measure. There are simply fewer women leaders in Congress, business, academia, non-profits, religious organizations and more. And there are fewer women of color who are leaders.In a significant new report from the American Association of University Women, “Barriers & Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership,” the authors offer solutions.Training for women leadership (Take The Lead can help here) is key. Women also need to ask for more money in salary negotiations and understand their own personal biases. Employers can be flexible about work, offer diversity training and sponsorship programs. And policy makers can do their part to ensure laws uphold fairness and wage equality.Why challenge the status quo? AAUW suggests there are many layers of advantages to having equal opportunities for women leadership alongside men. They range from individual benefits to enhanced national leadership.

  • “It’s good for both men and women to challenge stereotypical ideas about gender roles. Just as the status quo is holding women back from leadership roles, it is holding men back from embracing caretaking and support roles.”
  • “It’s good for families, whether they rely on women as the sole breadwinners or have a two-earner income.”
  • “It’s good for business to draw on the creativity of a diverse staff and recognize the purchasing power of women.”
  • “It’s good for the country, because the more diverse the pool, the more talented our leaders will be.”

According to Fast Company: “The report’s authors point out that gender, race, and age are often subject to stereotyping. Even positive stereotypes can hurt, such as when a man doesn’t exhibit the typical aggression often assigned to male leadership. On the flip side, women are assumed to be caregivers and therefore given an armload of “housekeeping” tasks in the office —even by other women. Then, the damage is done. ‘Once a stereotype has been adopted, it becomes a filter through which we selectively recall and use information,’ the authors write.”Breaking down the AAUW report in Fortune, author Valentina Zarya writes that the record for women of color in leadership is abysmal, with only 1/5 percent of the private sector leadership jobs going to black women.Zarya continues: “’Most minority groups and especially minority women are very underrepresented’” in both the public and private sectors, says AAUW senior researcher Kevin Miller, who worked on the study. And while women in the corporate and political spheres might operate differently, the representation—or lack thereof—of female leaders is actually strikingly similar: In both cases, women represent about a quarter of leadership.”But the low numbers are not a result of efforts by women of color for the past several generations. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and CEO of Center for Talent Innovation writes in Huffington Post:Black Women: Ready to Lead, a CTI 2015 report, finds that Black women have always been leaders and/or have always aspired to leadership positions. In fact, our research finds that Black women are more likely than white women to aspire to a powerful position with a prestigious title (22 percent vs. eight percent) and perceive a powerful position as the means to achieving their professional goals. This appetite for leadership is rooted in their cultural background and their upbringing.“Hewlett continues: “The black women surveyed are 25 percent more likely than white women to have both clear near-term (50 percent vs. 40 percent) and long-term career goals (40 percent vs. 32 percent). They are also considerably more likely than white women (43 percent vs. 30 percent to be confident that they can succeed in a position of power.”Hewlett adds there are many factors in women’s lives and experience contributing to this outcome. “Their keen grasp of what power can do likely derives from their long experience holding leadership roles in their households, churches, schools, and communities. Findings from CTI’s 2005 study, Leadership in our Midst, confirm that African-American women are far more likely than white men (25 percent vs. 16 percent) to hold pivotal roles in religious communities, and to engage in hands-on social outreach (41 percent vs. 32 percent. They’re nearly twice as likely as white women (25 percent vs. 14 percent) to be on the front lines helping young people in their communities as mentors, tutors, and ‘big sisters.’”Speaking at a separate conference on women’s leadership at Rutgers University-Camden, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, director of the Community Leadership Center and tenured faculty at Rutgers, said because of the environments that can obstruct a clear path for women to the top, her best advice to any woman leader is to hone resilience.Acknowledging the challenges to become immersed in women leadership at every level of her career, Ritu Anand, deputy head of global human resources at Tata Consultancy Services, writes about the need to retain women leaders in corporate America in Fortune: “Senior executives need to recognize accomplishments and create learning opportunities. Board members must reach out to connect and inspire. And women themselves must expand their leadership horizons, building networks beyond company walls.“There are many ways to do this: be active in industry associations and community groups; pursue board positions; attend and speak at industry events. But the easiest and most impactful way to raise your leadership profile is through the thoughtful and relevant use of social media. Working in concert with your company to share your insights on the important issues facing your constituents helps solidify your brand, your network, and your career.”