Catalyst, a leading research organization dedicated to the advancement of women in business, published a report earlier last month on the number of women in leadership positions in the Standard & Poor’s (S & P) list of the top 500 companies. 45% of the labor force in S & P 500 companies is female, yet only 4.4% of women hold CEO positions. According to Catalyst, 19.2% of board seats are held by women and only 25% of executive and senior-level managers in these same organizations are women.
So what accounts for the disparity between the numbers of working women and those in C-suite leadership positions? Research points to some very real barriers. Stereotypes, bias, family and caretaking responsibilities, lack of role models and mentors, and a relational approach to leadership have all been blamed. The glass labyrinth replaces the glass ceiling as a metaphor for the complexity of a woman’s climb up the corporate ladder and into the boardroom. According to the Harvard Business Review, the leadership pipeline for women remains very thin.
In spite of these challenges, progress is being made. I am facilitating a leadership coaching group this fall and have been so impressed by the young women who are participating. My advice to them? Start now to build a social support network of professional men and women who are willing to advocate for you. Identify mentors and sponsors who offer feedback and encouragement. Take advantage of opportunities to increase awareness of your own leadership style and preferences, and work on building skills and competencies in communication, emotional intelligence, team work, resilience, adaptability and professionalism. Act with integrity and speak with confidence. Be true to yourself and authentic in your relationships with others. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially if you are a caretaker for young children or aging family members. Above all, promote diversity of all kinds in organizations. We all benefit when organizations are open to new ideas, processes, perspectives, and leadership styles.
If you are interested in exploring your own leadership style, join a coaching group, register for a leadership trek or adventure trip, or schedule time to meet with a coach. Mahatma Gandhi challenges each of us to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Don’t be afraid to take the lead!