10 Minute Read

Women in Leadership and the Issues They Face

Editorial commentary by Maren Hogan

Editor’s Note: We’ve written about the wage gap and the frustrating statistics around women in the workplace in the past. Here, we tackle the issues again with a new generation of writers in the hopes that eventually these numbers will edge up or down as the case may be. The goal of these articles is not just to shine a light on the issues that women face in the workplace and the breadth of work that is yet to be completed, but to offer practical, common sense solutions to those who are helping to build a new and different economy.

The majority of American women are in the labor force and the numbers are continuing to rise. As of November 2014, 57% of women were in the workforce and they account for about half of the U.S. labor force at 47%. But when it comes to senior management positions, this is far from the truth. According to a survey of top leaders from mid-market businesses throughout the U.S., only 22% of senior managers in 2014 were women. As the problem with not enough women in these positions persists, there are also issues facing the women that currently hold these types of positions that seriously need to be fixed.

For example, many women are choosing not to fight these battles at all, but instead, focus on entrepreneurial endeavors. While this is not a bad thing for these women or the overall economy, it still leaves women woefully underrepresented at a governmental and commercial level.


In 2014, only 22% of senior managers for mid-market businesses in the U.S. were women. Click To Tweet


When We Think Boss, We Still Think “He”

According to a Gallup survey, Americans still prefer a man as a boss as opposed to a woman. 33% of the respondents were more likely to say they would like to have a man as a boss than a woman (20%). 46% did say, though, that it did not matter. This problem doesn’t lie with just one gender, either. Women, who in this modern age are told to vie for the position they want, “lean in” and sit at the table are also claiming to prefer a man as a superior over a woman with 39% of women respondents choosing a man. Gallup started conducting this survey in the 1980s and while the percentage of Americans who prefer a female boss has grown over the last 30 years, it has never surpassed 25%.

In fact, fewer CEOs are women than are named DAVID. As ClearCompany’s diversity statistics video states:

When a single name outnumbers an entire gender, it reveals a staggering problem. This stat reveals just how few opportunities women get in the business world, and no matter what people may think, it’s not because women can’t handle leadership. Women are more than capable of handling all the demands of a business — the people in charge simply aren’t letting them prove themselves.


Fact: There are fewer CEOs who are women than are named David. Click To Tweet


Communication Blind Spots

It’s commonly expressed that men and women communicate in different manners. This is accurate in certain circumstances and can sometimes play into communication within the workplace. These differences include: Asking questions to contribute (women do more often than men), feeling included in the conversation, or receiving acknowledgment in an individual manner (which men prefer, over a collective group). Many leaders communicate in a manner that is effective for them but in order to improve communication and have a more harmonious work environment, we have to work harder to understand and respect our differences.

And we’re not the only ones who think so! A recent Pew study asked respondents if they believed there was a bias against women in the workplace. 40%, just shy of the majority answered yes. Both women and men are more likely to hire men over women, and it’s likely what leads to a lack of gender diversity in the workplace, as well as problems with women in leader. Companies need to recognize this bias and implement programs which favor women in order to counteract this inherent bias in hiring.

One great example of a study that uncovered bias in hiring is that of the blind audition. It sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to say that, but in orchestras, when companies switched from auditions where they could see the candidate to blind auditions, the percentage of women members in the orchestra jumped from 5% to 25%. Similarly, institutions using a double-blind method to review scientific studies have similarly increased the number of women who get published in journals. Can you implement this type of “blind process” in your company? Phone screens, assessments and tools like Textio can help create more equity in your interview process.


Can you implement a 'blind process' into your hiring? Here's why you should: Click To Tweet


Female Bosses Seen as ‘Office Moms’

Men and women have different conceptions on what makes a good boss. Georgetown’s Prof. Tannen has found that men consider strong leaders and good bosses to be those who hire good people and then get out of the way. These are usually tactics that are used by men in management. For women, though, collaboration is key and frequently checking in to ensure things are running smoothly are aspects of a good leadership style. Men can see these tactics as overbearing and “motherly”, though, which can feel like a lack of trust in their employees. This often leads to miscommunication and sometimes resentment within the leader and employee relationship.



Respect, whether a leader is a man or woman, it is vital to the position. A study led by Ekaterina Netchaeva, an assistant professor of management and technology at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, has strengthened the theory that men often feel threatened when they have female bosses. They conducted a series of experiments to see if this is true. One of the experiments has men interact with a woman supervisor that was described to them beforehand as competent and ambitious and another described as simply effective. The participants demonstrated a more assertive attitude toward an ambitious female leader as opposed to the effective one.


Netchaeva’s team wrote, “Indeed, research suggests that the mere indication that a female leader is successful in her position leads to increased ratings of her selfishness, deceitfulness, and coldness.”


This couldn’t be further from the truth, though! Recent research estimates that teams, where men and women are equal, would earn 41% more revenue. When companies employ more women, they’re able to take advantage of a greater wealth of perspectives. This, in turn, causes companies to have more angles from which to tackle big business issues. The results are faster solutions, more creative thinking, and higher overall revenue.

Even though these issues for women in leadership roles persist, many employees should be seeking the guidance of a female leader as the Gallup survey also found that employees who work for a female boss are, on average, 6% more engaged than those who work for a male manager. As women continue to climb the corporate ladder and advance into leadership roles, it’s important to recognize these issues as well do our part to correct them.


Want to learn more about the wage gap. Check out Women are Saying Goodbye to the Workforce on Slideshare.
[slideshare id=25957334&doc=womensayinggoodbye-130906084132-]