We know about the glass ceiling, and how that is or was, considered a barrier to women achieving their career and leadership goals, but what else is blocking the pipeline to female leadership?
It’s easy to blame breaks in employment due to having children and going on maternity leave, but these pauses don’t need to have the halting effect that they sometimes do for some women.
Women need to be encouraged and to hear positive messages about their capacities to achieve positions of leadership from the get-go. We need to stop the mixed messages around whether study and striving to achieve is worth it if a woman intends to have children some day for example. Being a parent doesn’t preclude you from leadership. In fact, the skills developed might come in handy!
There have been slow but steady improvements in the participation of women in senior and executive roles, but women are continuing to be under-represented at the executive levels, and we have far to go to close the gap.
At a CEO or organisational level, there are strategies that can make gender equality a priority and not just a set and forget policy that sits and gathers dust and doesn’t make real change.
Get active – You have a strategic agenda for your company, and if gender equality and increasing opportunities for women in leadership truly is important, then that needs to be documented and acted upon, not just paid lip service.
Widen the net – Don’t just write a policy or include women in leadership as a strategic priority and stop there, we need CEOs and organisations to broaden their scope and set the wheels in action in different ways, and at different levels. You can’t fix the gap overnight, and a commitment to change needs to be made for the long term, starting with mentoring and encouraging at entry level, mitigating the losses on career due to breaks in service as a result of maternity leave, and then continuing to develop women as they advance and provide real support and training so that they don’t get left behind their male peers once they hit the ‘glass ceiling.’ There’s no short term or ‘one size fits all’ fix, but if something is worth doing, it is worth committing to in the long term.
Ask the hard questions – Once again, having a policy is not enough if you don’t review the results and keep chipping away to allow women leaders to shine and achieve.
Identifying women in the talent pipeline and ensuring they get the support they need, allowing them to develop any skills required, checking for unconscious bias, and assessing the success of policies and strategies are all essential self-assessment tools for an organisation wanting to make real change and put their money where their mouth is. Questions around these issues need to be asked honestly and often.
‘As women, we must stand up for ourselves. We must stand up for each other. We must stand up for justice for all.’ – Michelle Obama
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