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More women in the workplace, but still not enough opportunities

3 min read


Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Sasha Galbraith, who is a current partner of Galbraith Management Consultants, an international consulting firm specializing in solving strategy and organizational design challenges across corporate, business unit and international levels. Dr. Galbraith’s expertise focuses on executive women and their progression in a corporate hierarchy. She provides consulting services to large, multinational organizations regarding diversity issues and women in management.

Across the spectrum of corporate business around the world, women continue to take their seats in corner offices and the C-suite table. Yet, many of the gender-based workplace challenges of old still persist, earning gaps being just one. So what are the major issues that women in the corner office are facing in this new business environment?

Mirror Theory

Today, women only make up 13.5% of executive officer positions, which is defined as people appointed or elected by the board of directors, including the CEO and two levels below. At the board level, women are doing slightly better, occupying 15.2% of seats. Most companies (90%) have a token woman on their board, but only one in five companies has at least three female board members.

Why such low numbers? Don’t these companies know that putting more women in senior management can often mean better decisions, higher profits, stronger share price, more prudent risk-taking, and a well-rounded, thoughtful and effective management team?

Apparently not. The mirror theory seems to be at work again. Most board seats and senior executive positions tend to be filled with Caucasian men who often like to work with people who look like them, act like them and share the same values that they do. Subtle biases and stereotypes are clearly at work here. Many studies have demonstrated these biases, but one study in particular found that female leaders had to be perceived as both strong and sensitive to be considered effective. Male leaders only had to be perceived as strong.

Breaking Boundaries

Another issue worth exploring is the case of the “token” female leader. When a woman makes it to a leadership position, she is usually a “token” (i.e. a numerical minority representing 15% or less of the total number in a group). Tokens are constantly thrust into stereotypical roles and can feel more pressure to conform to the business environment. Tokens are also more isolated, have fewer opportunities to be sponsored and can face misperceptions of their identity. At the same time, those members of the dominant group tend to maintain boundaries, exaggerating group differences.

What are some solutions to these complicated issues?

Here’s a list for companies hoping to get started in the right direction:

  • Fill the executive pipeline with qualified, capable women.
  • Make the business case for diversity.
  • Root out bias and subtle stereotypes from the hiring and appraisal process, as well as in the organization’s culture.
  • Sponsor group training and problem-solving events.
  • Expand the pool of talent from which your organization recruits.
  • Remove the barriers to success.

While there have been great strides, leaps and bounds for women in the workplace, we are still facing many of the same enduring challenges. We’ve made a lot of progress, but our journey has only just begun.

Image credit, Gabi Moisa, via Shutterstock