Women In Leadership Dealing with Challenges

Women In Leadership Dealing with Challenges

There is a lot of media buzz about women who manage to break the almost impenetrable “glass ceiling” of the corporate C-Suite or board. Despite all the hype, the number of women executives such as CEOs remains miserably low. Data from the Pew Research Center indicates that between 1995 and 2017 the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies stands at 5.4 percent of that select group of leaders. The number of women Fortune 500 board members fares better at 20.2% in 2016 but there is still major room for improvement to meet gender parity in the boardroom.

There are compelling statistics that indicate that women are fully prepared to take on top leadership roles. Women obtain 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees in the US including 38 percent of MBAs and 48 percent of medical degrees according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They have proven that they are equal in their ability to lead effectively and to be innovative and forward-thinking.

“Challenges are real”

The challenges are real for reaching top business jobs. Successful women business leaders must deal with ongoing issues such as conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias in the workplace, a lack of female role models and opportunity for advancement and lower salaries. So, what can we learn from the women role models we do have at the highest levels?

“Learn from women who have made it”

What can qualified talented women do, to overcome gender bias and challenges to gain top leadership positions today? The answer may be to learn from those rising number of women who have achieved success and risen to the highest jobs in corporations. Their methods and achievements provide a blueprint that others can follow to attain their goals.

Numerous interviews with women leaders indicate that there are commonalities to their success. This includes possessing the following qualities:

  • Being confident in their abilities to do the job. Lack of confidence can be a major stumbling block to move forward to the highest levels of an organization. This situation is not helped by the fact that organizations are not good at fostering confidence in women despite workforce development programs and leadership training courses for women. Gaining necessary skills, experience and a mastery of the needed subjects can provide women with a feeling of confidence that can make all the difference.


  • Social and emotional intelligence. This refers to the ability to understand one’s own and others feelings and be able to utilize that knowledge to be an effective leader. This includes being self-aware, being empathetic toward others, possessing self-management skills such as intentionality, and resilience, and strong interpersonal skills.


  • Perseverance and grit. Research tells us that success as a leader is not based primarily on intelligence or having a degree from an ivy league college. The best predictor of success is being persistent and having a passion for the job. Women leaders who are willing to put in the time, be resilient in the face of difficulties, move past failure and mistakes are likely to attain their goals.


  • Positive attitude. Literature abounds with studies and examples of the importance of having a positive attitude if you want to be an effective leader. The leader or CEO sets the tone for an entire organization. Having an optimistic future-facing approach can make all the difference in how an organization functions including management, teams, and employees. If you as a leader stay positive, passionate, true to yourself and your beliefs you can accomplish almost anything.


  • High integrity. To be a great leader you must have integrity. This includes holding and practising values that are consistent and principled in your personal and business life.


  • Risk taker. Leaders are by their very nature risk takers. Without risk a business becomes stagnant and a company that is standing still will fail. Women leaders need to face fears that can hold them back from taking risks such as being afraid of failure, or experimentation, and take educated calculated risks to move a company forward.

Women who want to reach the top can mirror behaviors of their women role models. There are six main behaviors practiced by successful women leaders. What is important to note is that all these behaviors can be learned – they just require drive and hard work.

  • Develop formal or informal personal action plans and set high goals. To reach a specific goal it takes planning and deciding you want to become a CEO of an organization or a similar job takes a good plan. Take the time to figure out how you will gain the knowledge you need, find the right mentors or sponsors, gain needed experience and accomplish specific projects or reach different levels of management on your way to the top. When developing your plan analyze your own strengths and build on them.


  • Look for and utilize sponsors and mentors. Successful male leaders know they need help to get to the top. Women need to be willing to ask for help including finding mentors who can provide knowledge and sponsors who can actively act on their behalf. Learn from the available role models including successful men in the organization.


  • Take on new responsibilities and volunteer for projects. Women need to move beyond fear and their comfort zones to become known in an organization. It is important to be seen as a reliable resource and a contributor to the organization. Say yes to new opportunities and if you are not sure of your abilities to do the job get the training you need to accomplish the goal. Be forward-thinking and a change agent in your company.


  • Gain knowledge about the job, industry and leadership expertise including any needed soft skills. Learn crisis management, conflict resolution, negotiation, and decision-making skills. If these courses are not available within the corporation then go outside to obtain needed skills. Practice continuous learning and focus on improving leadership skills. Learn how decision making happens in the organization and who are the decision makers and get buy-in for any projects you are involved in.


  • Build a personal brand based on professionalism, knowledge, integrity and visibility. As a leader, you need to be aware of the importance of your personal brand at all times. Internalize it and take ownership of a leadership identity by making your voice heard, by mentoring others, by offering help to those at all levels and sharing credit for successes.


  • Network successfully. Build allies in your organization and in your community. Join professional organizations and strategic committees where you can contribute and make a difference.

 Realize there is bias

Acquiring all these skills and undertaking the steps to success can be difficult. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that a major challenge for women who want to reach the top is second-generation gender bias. This refers to social practices and workplace behaviors that on the surface appear to be neutral but are in actuality biased toward men.

An example would be discrimination on how assertiveness is perceived when applied to both genders – always a positive quality for men but often seen as overly aggressive behavior in women. According to the article, when women understand these biases they can address them in a positive way and become empowered rather than victimized.

One of the best ways that women can empower themselves for successful leadership is through education and the development of top leadership skills. Gaining the right knowledge such as soft skills, and management training including crisis management, conflict resolution, negotiation, and decision-making from individuals who have already reached success helps women gain the confidence and recognition they need to be effective leaders.

Webinar on Women Leadership by Shiela Hooda Independent Board Director and  Strategic Advisor


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *