Breaking Down Bias: A Candid Look at Women’s Challenges in Leadership

The Reality of Being a Woman in Business and Leadership: How Bias Still Exists

A famous saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” While this may be true in some cases, it couldn’t be further from reality for women in business and leadership.

A woman doesn’t need a great man behind her to be a powerful leader!

But it still seems like bias is still holding us back.

This is a true and disappointing story. A few years back I was working with a client who had said they wanted to partner with us to design and deliver their leadership program. After weeks of working with the team at the last minute the CEO vetoed us. Why? Because they wanted a male to deliver the program because there were mostly men in the program. I was in complete and utter shock. The L&D were equally mortified. Note – they engaged me for one workshop during the program as they felt so awful and it ended getting the best feedback from the entire program – I am being humble whilst writing this and also digging it in a little!

As a woman in business, you will likely face many challenges that your male counterparts don’t. From the moment you enter the workforce, you are met with bias and discrimination. It’s hard to break through the glass ceiling.

People continue to ask, “why are there still so few women in leadership positions?”

And while there are many answers to that question, one thing is for sure: it’s not easy being a woman in these roles.

In fact, according to recent studies by Harvard Business Review in March 2022, women still face bias and discrimination in the workplace. The reality is this is true even in industries where there are more women than men in the workplace, such as law (53.5%), higher education (55.3%), and health care (77.6%).

So why is this? And how can we make a change?

In this blog post, I’ll take a closer look at how tough it is being a woman in business and leadership and how we still see bias against women. Then I’ll discuss what we can do to make real change.

Are you ready to challenge the status quo? Then, keep reading!

Why Being A Woman In Leadership Is Tough

Even though, as women, we have made great strides in the workforce over the past few decades, we still face many challenges, and bias against us still exists.

Even with all the media coverage around media female empowerment, it is still challenging for women in the workplace with leadership aspirations.

One of the main reasons it’s tough to be a woman in leadership is because gender bias still exists. And it’s not just men who are biased against women. But women can also be biased against other women, which is called “internalised sexism.”

Internalised sexism is when you believe that gender stereotypes and roles are true. For example, you might believe that women are not as good as men at maths or science, even though you may be very good at these subjects yourself.

This internalised sexism can prevent women from asserting themselves and going after leadership roles. It can also make them more likely to doubt their abilities and give up when facing challenges.

External factors, such as gender stereotypes and discrimination, also make it tough to be a woman in leadership. For example, studies have shown that women are less likely to be given challenging assignments at work, and when they are, they are more likely to be evaluated harshly for their performance.

These factors can make it difficult for women to succeed in leadership roles.

Different Types Of Bias Women Experience As Leaders

As women in business and leadership, on a day-to-day basis, we experience many different types of bias against us, from subtle comments to outright discrimination.

Unfortunately, you may be so used to it happening that you don’t even realise it is biased.

Well, ladies, it’s time to stand up! We are as good as men as leaders, and our time is now to prove it!

“I choose my attitude. I choose a leadership attitude.” – Sonia McDonald.

A quote from my book Leadership Attitude.

Here are the types of bias you are likely to experience as a woman in business and leadership:

Gender Bias

Women have made great strides in the workplace, but we still face unique challenges. One of the biggest challenges is gender bias. We are often judged more harshly than our male counterparts and held to different standards than men. Our accomplishments are also often minimised or dismissed altogether, making it difficult to advance in our careers.

Pay Disparities

Women are also paid less than men for doing the same job. In fact, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), Australia’s national gender pay gap is 14.1%.

This means that women earn an average of 85.9 cents for every dollar a man earns, even for doing the same job. Over a week, this is an average $263.90 difference between a woman’s and a man’s salaries.

Gender-based discrimination and harassment

Sadly, gender-based discrimination and harassment are still common in the workplace. As a result, women are often objectified and treated like second-class citizens. This can make it extremely uncomfortable in the workplace and challenging to focus on our work and be taken seriously as leaders.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is another big issue we face. This is when people judge others based on their own biases and stereotypes. For example, you may be regarded as “too emotional” or “not assertive enough” simply because you are a woman.

Lack Of Opportunities For Advancement

In addition to gender bias and pay disparities, women also face a lack of opportunities for advancement. We often find ourselves overlooked for promotions and leadership positions. And when we are in leadership roles, we are often not given the same respect or authority as our male counterparts.

As of 2021, women represented only 19.4% of CEOs in Australia and 34.5% of key management personnel.

Am I the only one who thinks there is something wrong with that?

These challenges can make it difficult to succeed as a woman in business or leadership. But we cannot give up! We have to continue to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Only then will we achieve our full potential as women leaders.

The Glass Ceiling

Another challenge women face is the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a barrier that prevents women from reaching the highest levels of leadership in their organisations. It can be frustrating and demoralising. It can also make it impossible to have our voices heard and our opinions valued. Unfortunately, even in 2022, it is still as prevalent as it was 20 years ago.

Sexual Harassment

Sadly, sexual harassment is also a reality for many women in the workplace. This gender bias can make it difficult to succeed in your career and feel safe at work.

According to Safe Work Australia, one in three people – 33%- have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years.

The number is sadly unsurprisingly higher for women, at 39% – almost 2 in 5 women. It has to stop now!

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, know that you are not alone. Here is what you should do if you find yourself in that situation. And know that there is strength in numbers.

“Don’t just stand for the success of other women – insist on it.” — Gail Blanke.

OWL Outstanding Leadership Program Starts 2023! Register Today….

Why Bias Against Women Persists in the Workplace

It’s no secret that many types of bias against women persist, making it tough to be a woman in the workplace.

But why does this bias still exist? Here are a few reasons:

Lack Of Gender Diversity In Leadership Positions

One of the reasons gender bias persists in the workplace is that there is a lack of gender diversity in leadership positions. This means that women are not represented in positions of power and authority. As a result, our voices don’t get heard, and our opinions are not valued.

Shockingly, 22.3% of boards and governing bodies had no female directors even in 2021, in contrast to only 0.6% with no male directors.

Such a colossal discrepancy can make it challenging to create change or advance gender equality in the workplace.

The Lack Of Affordable Childcare Options

Another reason gender bias persists is the lack of affordable childcare options. This makes it difficult for women to balance work and family responsibilities. As a result, many women are forced to choose between their career and their family. This can make it difficult to advance in their career or reach senior leadership positions.

Stereotypes And Gender Roles

Stereotypes and gender roles play a role in gender bias in the workplace. For example, women are often seen as nurturing and compassionate, while men are seen as strong and capable. This can make it difficult for women to be taken seriously in the workplace or to appear as equals to their male counterparts.

The “Old Boys Club” Mentality In Many Organisations

Another reason gender bias persists in the workplace is the “old boys club” mentality in many organisations. It is the idea that only men are qualified to hold leadership positions and that women are not capable of being successful leaders.

It is this prehistoric mindset that creates an environment where gender bias thrives. I think it is time to break down these barriers and create a more inclusive workplace for everyone!

Gender Stereotypes and Assumptions

Gender stereotypes and assumptions are another reason we deal with bias in the workplace. For example, the assumption that women are not as capable as men or that they are only interested in work traditionally considered “female”, such as childcare or cleaning.

These stereotypes limit women’s opportunities and prevent us from being seen as equals. Challenging these assumptions and giving women the chance to prove themselves in all aspects of the workplace is now more important than ever.

Gender Discrimination Is Not Taken Seriously

Unfortunately, many people do not take gender discrimination seriously. Instead, they see it as a “minor” issue or something not worth their time and energy. Well, it needs to change!

Gender bias is a real problem that needs addressing as the elephant that has stayed too long in the room. We must start taking gender discrimination seriously and working together to end it.

Gender Stereotypes Have Been Ingrained In Our Society For Centuries

Realistically, they are not going to change overnight. But we can make progress if we all work together to challenge these stereotypes and break down the barriers that keep women from being seen as equals in the workplace.

These are just a few reasons gender bias persists in the workplace. But we can change this!

“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” ― Emma Watson.

What You Can Do To Create Change

The reality is that gender bias is still a very real problem in the workplace. Women are not treated equally and are not given the same opportunities as men. It needs to change. Together, we can make a difference!

If you’re ready to fight back against gender bias and discrimination, there are a few things you can do. They include:

Increase Your Awareness

First, increase your awareness of the problem. Pay attention to the types of bias and discrimination you see or experience in your workplace. This will help you identify patterns and better understand the issue.

For example, are you being passed over for opportunities or paid less than your male counterparts? If so, speak up! Have a conversation with your boss or HR department.

Start Conversations

Then have open and honest conversations about gender bias with your friends, family, and co-workers. The more we talk about these issues, the more we can create change. We have to show everyone this isn’t an issue that we aren’t just going to sweep under the rug, as much as they would like us to.

Support And Mentor Other Women

Next, we must support and mentor other women in the workplace.

We need to lift each other up, and show each other that we are not alone and are here to help each other succeed.

We can do this by being mentors to other women looking to enter leadership positions and sharing our experiences and knowledge with them to help them navigate the challenges they may face.

Speak Up Against Gender Bias

When we see or experience gender bias, we must speak up and advocate for change without fear of repercussions. We must tell people that this is unacceptable and that we expect better. We can also support organisations that are working to end gender discrimination.

Raise Your Hand For Leadership Opportunities

Ladies, when a leadership opportunity arises, you need to throw your hat into the ring, stand up and take a risk to apply.

It is never the right time to apply for a leadership position, and you may never feel ready and perhaps even experience imposter syndrome. But when the opportunity arises, take action!

It is always best to plan for the future, and perhaps the best way you can do that is by undertaking my leadership coaching, where I help to bring out the inner courage in the next generation of strong female leaders while setting you up for success.

Final Thoughts

Women often face an uphill battle when it comes to being taken seriously and achieving success in the workplace. Being a woman in business and leadership is tough, but it’s time for us to band together and make a change.

The good news is that things are slowly changing, and more women are rising to leadership positions. But, while it is a positive step forward, we still have a long way to go.

Of course, it goes without saying that we deserve to be treated fairly, and we deserve to have equal opportunities in the workplace.

But if no one says it or dares to advocate for change, will it just magically happen? Sadly, no.

Luckily, we can continue to make progress if we all work together to challenge bias and create a more inclusive workplace for everyone. So let’s have the courage to commit to making this change! Together, we can do this!

Does this all sound a little overwhelming right now? I get it! It is hard to change everything overnight. So instead, would you like to experience a powerful transformation and unlock your leadership potential while having the courage to stand up against bias in the workplace?

My NEW OWL Outstanding Leadership Program takes a personalised approach to meet the needs of women in leadership roles. Click to find out more info today.

By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.

When Sonia speaks, everyone in the room feels like she is having a conversation with them as her audience will feel as if they are the only one in the room. She speaks from the heart. She is brave. She wants everyone to be brave. She is an impactful and motivational leadership expert and speaker that creates a life-changing experience. People call Sonia sassy, inspirational, real and a speaker who leaves a lasting impression. Her high-energy, authenticity and humour combined with actionable and practical advice, empowers her audience and provides them with great drive and confidence to take courageous action sand inspire great leadership in all aspects of their lives.

She is also a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.

Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.

She is also a full-time single parent and has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.Categories: Blogcouragewomenwomen in leadershipBy Sonia McDonald