How We Can Close The Gap

This week, I delivered a women in leadership program, one of my favourites. Why? Having a group of outstanding women in a room sharing, learning, and growing is beyond humbling. In turn, they all have a voice. The vulnerability and courage I see and hear in the room are remarkable. They are my most transformational programs as they drive more women to step in, stand up and have the courage to lead. We need more women in leadership roles; this is one way to break the barrier and lead change in this space. We still have a long way to go, and I wanted to explore the research, issues and what we can do.

Research on women in leadership gaps encompasses various studies and reports examining the disparities between men and women in leadership positions across different industries and regions. Here are some key findings from notable research:

1. Representation Disparities: Numerous studies have highlighted the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. For example, research from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org’s “Women in the Workplace” report consistently shows that women are significantly less likely than men to be promoted to managerial positions, resulting in a widening gender gap in leadership representation as career levels advance.

2. Gender Pay Gap: Studies often reveal a gender pay gap in leadership roles, with women earning less than their male counterparts in similar positions. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report and research by organisations like the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) provide insights into the persistent wage disparities between men and women in leadership positions.

3. Barriers to Advancement: Research identifies various barriers that hinder women’s advancement to leadership roles, including gender bias, lack of access to mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, limited networking opportunities, and systemic organisational barriers. Studies by Catalyst, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), and the Harvard Business Review (HBR) have examined these barriers and their impact on women’s career progression.

4. Impact of Diversity on Performance: Research consistently demonstrates the positive impact of gender diversity in leadership on organisational performance. Studies by McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and others have found that companies with more gender-diverse leadership teams tend to outperform their less diverse counterparts regarding financial performance, innovation, and decision-making effectiveness.

5. Leadership Styles and Preferences: Some research suggests differences in leadership styles and preferences between men and women. For instance, studies by Zenger Folkman and others have found that women leaders tend to score higher in specific leadership competencies, such as collaboration, empathy, and inclusiveness, which are increasingly valued in today’s complex and interconnected business landscape.

6. Intersectionality: Intersectional research examines how gender intersects with other factors such as race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and disability to compound barriers to leadership for women from marginalised groups. Intersectional studies highlight the need for more nuanced approaches to promoting diversity and inclusion in leadership.

Overall, research on women in leadership gaps provides valuable insights into women’s challenges in advancing to leadership positions and the benefits of gender diversity in leadership for organisations and society. This body of research underscores the importance of proactive efforts to address barriers to women’s leadership and promote gender equality in all spheres of society.

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While progress has been made in recent years, many argue that companies are not proactive enough to address gender leadership issues. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Persistent Gender Gaps: Despite efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace, significant gender gaps persist at all levels of leadership. Women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions and face barriers to career advancement.
  2. Slow Pace of Change: Progress towards gender equality in leadership has been slow. Many companies have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives, but the pace of change remains sluggish, and the representation of women in leadership roles has remained relatively high in recent years.
  3. Tokenism vs. Genuine Inclusion: Some companies may focus on superficial diversity efforts, such as appointing a few women to leadership positions to meet quotas or appear more inclusive, without addressing the underlying systemic issues perpetuating gender inequality.
  4. Lack of Accountability: There is often a lack of accountability for progress on gender diversity initiatives within organisations. Without clear goals, metrics, and accountability mechanisms, efforts to promote gender equality may lack the necessary focus and commitment of leadership.
  5. Unconscious Bias and Stereotypes: Unconscious bias and stereotypes about women’s leadership abilities continue to influence hiring, promotion, and leadership development decisions within organisations. Addressing these biases requires proactive efforts to raise awareness, provide training, and implement fair and transparent processes.
  6. Work-Life Balance and Support: Many women face challenges balancing work and family responsibilities, which can impact their ability to pursue leadership roles. Companies can be more proactive in providing support systems, such as flexible work arrangements, parental leave policies, and childcare assistance, to help women succeed in leadership positions.
  7. Cultural and Structural Barriers: Organisational cultures and structures may be inherently biased against women, making it difficult for them to thrive in leadership roles. Companies must proactively address these barriers by promoting inclusive leadership behaviours, challenging gender stereotypes, and fostering a supportive and equitable work environment.

While some companies have made significant strides in promoting gender diversity and inclusion in leadership, much work remains. To be truly proactive in addressing gender leadership issues, companies must prioritise diversity and inclusion as strategic imperatives, embed these values into their organisational culture, and take concrete actions to dismantle systemic barriers to gender equality.


When we work with companies on how they can attract, develop, and retain women in leadership, leadership programs, sponsorship, and overcoming unconscious biases are part of the change and work we do; however, organisations should consider areas such as job redesign. Why? Organisations should view redesigning jobs for women for several reasons, including:

  1. Promoting Gender Equality: Many organisations recognise the importance of gender equality in the workplace. Redesigning jobs to accommodate women can help address systemic barriers and promote a more inclusive work environment.
  2. Retention and Talent Acquisition: Organisations can attract and retain top female talent by creating job roles that are more accommodating to women’s needs. This is crucial for maintaining a diverse workforce and benefiting from broader perspectives and skills.
  3. Work-Life Balance: Women often juggle multiple responsibilities, including caregiving and household duties. Redesigning jobs to offer flexible hours, remote work options, or part-time arrangements can help women better balance their work and personal lives.
  4. Career Advancement: Traditional job structures may inadvertently hinder women’s career progression due to inflexible expectations or bias. Redesigning jobs to focus on outcomes rather than hours worked or physical presence can ensure that women have equal opportunities for advancement.
  5. Addressing Stereotypes and Bias: Some job roles may have implicit biases favouring certain gender norms or characteristics. Redesigning jobs focusing on skills, competencies, and outcomes can help break down these stereotypes and create more equitable opportunities for women.
  6. Enhancing Organisational Performance: Diverse teams are more innovative and perform better. Redesigning jobs more inclusive of women’s needs can contribute to a more diverse workforce and improve organisational performance.
  7. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: In many jurisdictions, there are legal requirements or guidelines for gender equality and non-discrimination in the workplace. Redesigning jobs more inclusive of women’s needs can help organisations comply with these regulations and avoid potential legal issues.

Overall, redesigning jobs for women is not just a matter of fairness and equality; it’s also a strategic imperative for organisations looking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape. By creating a work environment that supports women’s needs and talents, organisations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive sustainable success.

Part-time executive roles for women can indeed help address leadership and gender issues in several ways:

  1. Increasing Representation: Offering part-time executive roles for women can increase the representation of women in leadership positions. This helps break down barriers and stereotypes about women’s capabilities in leadership roles.
  2. Retaining Talent: Many women may leave the workforce or step back from their careers due to family responsibilities or other personal commitments. Offering part-time executive roles allows organisations to retain talented women who may otherwise leave or reduce their involvement in the workforce.
  3. Providing Flexibility: Part-time executive roles offer flexibility that can accommodate women’s diverse needs, such as caregiving responsibilities, further education, or pursuing other interests. This flexibility can improve work-life balance and job satisfaction among women leaders.
  4. Encouraging Diversity of Thought: Organisations can tap into a wider pool of perspectives and experiences by promoting part-time executive roles for women. This diversity of thought can lead to more innovative solutions and better organisational decision-making processes.
  5. Setting a Positive Example: Organisations that offer part-time executive roles for women send a strong message about their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality. This can help attract top female talent and enhance the organisation’s reputation as a progressive and supportive employer.
  6. Addressing Unconscious Bias: Part-time executive roles challenge traditional notions of leadership that may be biased against women. Organisations can help break down stereotypes and biases about women’s leadership capabilities by demonstrating that leadership can be effective and thriving part-time.
  7. Creating Pathways to Leadership: Part-time executive roles can serve as stepping stones for women who aspire to full-time leadership positions. By gaining experience and demonstrating their capabilities in part-time roles, women can increase their confidence and readiness to take on higher-level leadership roles.

Overall, offering part-time executive roles for women can be a valuable strategy for organisations seeking to promote gender diversity in leadership positions. Organisations can create a more inclusive and influential leadership culture that benefits everyone by providing flexibility, retaining talent, and challenging traditional norms.

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By Sonia McDonald — CEO of LeadershipHQ and Outstanding Leadership Awards, Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO, and Award Winning Author.

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