In the U.S., only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, but they make up 45% of the workforce at these companies. Women make up 23% of the U.S. House of Representatives, and in its entire history, there’s only been one Speaker of the House, recently elected for the second time. 25% of U.S. Senators are women in 2019, an all-time high. Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions. There are myriad reasons behind this consistent discrepancy between women and men in leadership roles that reinforce each other. Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in leadership assessment, points to the fact that clinical narcissism is almost 40% more prevalent in men than in women. Narcissists are “masters of impression management” and selling their ideas to others—traits that are rewarded with leadership positions within our corporate culture.
Obstacles to Becoming Leaders in Government
In the world of politics, it’s more difficult for women than men to become candidates—before even considering obstacles to winning elections. A recent study published in the Journal of Feminist Media Studies suggests that there is a strong relationship between media sexism and the share of women candidates. The authors show that the higher the level of media sexism, the lower the share of women candidates, deterring females’ political ambition.
For the women who overcome the first obstacle and become candidates, they then have a harder time winning than their male counterparts. The media does not cover female candidates as much as they do male candidates. Evidence also indicates that men are more visible in the media during elections, and that women are subject to discrimination. Additionally, the limited coverage the media provides to female candidates tends to focus on their viability, their appearance, and not on their issue stances.
More Women in Leadership Benefits Everyone
Putting women into decision-making positions isn’t about leveling the playing field for the sake of women— it’s about creating a better society that benefits everyone. Multiple studies have shown that diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous groups. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean.
There is also evidence that women outperform men in a wide range of duties. In U.S. corporations, labor dynamics of team-work, consensus decision making and empowerment are highly beneficial for organizations. These characteristics all benefit the leadership styles that women already exhibit naturally. Female managers are more transformational, having a stronger positive impact on individual, group, and organizational performance.
Research by Dr. Alice Eagly and Dr. Bernard Bass, experts on gender and leadership, has shown that women are more likely to have qualities associated with success. Women leaders care more about developing the people that work below them, and are willing to listen to them to stimulate them to “think outside the box.” Women are more ethical, and according to Dr. Bass, women are better suited to lead and manage than men are.
Progress in Equal Leadership Representation
Some segments of society have had greater progress with increasing female leadership than others. In the economic world, we have seen women rise to the top like never before. Today the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is lead by Christine Lagarde, a French woman. Laurence Boone, also French, was named Chief Economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018. These extraordinary academics are joined by several others who have strategic positions in banking and international organizations like Gina Gopinath (IMF), Pinalopi Koujianon (World Bank Group), Beata Javorcik (EBRD-European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and Michala Marcussen (Societe Generale-One of the biggest multinational investment banks).
Christine Lagarde (IMF) called for a Global Imperative for women to take on more leadership positions and reaffirmed that if banks and financial supervision were to increase the proportion of women in leadership roles, the banking system would be more stable.
How to Increase Female Representation
One thing that can be done to combat the lack of leadership roles occupied by women is for women to help each other. The evidence shows that the few in power are already doing that. Female executives in women-led firms are earning 10% to 20% more than other women in executive positions in men-lead firms.
The burden of changing the societal inertia that keeps men in the majority of leadership roles is for everyone—not just women. Since everyone is set to benefit from greater diversity in leadership, men need to make themselves aware of the existing obstacles for women and do their part to remove those obstacles.
We are missing out on better leaders by not having more women at the decision-making table. Empowering women is not a gain just for women—it’s a gain for society as a whole. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Better the balance, better the world.” If we embrace the challenges and work to open up spaces for more female leaders, we can achieve a better balance and a better world.
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