Ask a group of people for a list of leaders from history who have most inspired them- most names will be male. If women appear on the list, they are typically less in number, not as famous or more obscure. There’s no doubt that there have been many amazing male leaders, but it’s time that our perceptions of who’s inspirational is balanced by the true diversity of our population, and that women become recognised for being just as capable and inspiring in leadership roles as men are.
Although diverse workforces have been proven to be more successful, attract better talent, are more productive and creative, and deliver better results, equality is far from being a realism across UK organisations. Many organisations are still experiencing gender pay issues, disparity in promotion processes and a lack of female representation on UK boards. Women often feel that their voices are not heard, or that and for those with children or other caring responsibilities, balancing a successful career and family life can challenging.
But it’s not just organisations that need to change. Women need to do their part by pushing for, embracing and creating new opportunities for senior roles. Sometimes it’s about having the courage to challenge the status quo, and having the confidence to express yourself and be heard. Standing up for what you believe has never been easy, but we have so many great historical examples of inspirational women standing up to be heard, from Emmeline Pankhurst, to Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai.
Barriers to women in senior leadership roles
Research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) shows that the proportion of females at Board level (23%), is half of those at senior management level (46%), indicating a strong barrier to those reaching the very top jobs. Sadly, there are still many barriers to women achieving senior positions, ranging from limited perceptions about women’s potential, an absence of great role models, careers advice, taking time off, caring responsibilities, full time working being the cultural norm, a lack of talent spotting, and a lack of mentoring. (CIPD 2016).
There are some really simple things that organisations can do to counter-balance these barriers. Practical and measurable activities include reviewing current policies, reward and promotion processes, conducting engagement surveys and running focus groups that can help to identify barriers and find solutions. These activities can help to bring teams together to start to tackle some of the fundamental barriers in place, and can uncover deeper issues such as workplace bias, which can often go unnoticed, especially if the organisation over-uses the phrase “this is how we do things around here.” When these activities are delivered in conjunction with investment in training and leadership development, companies and organisations can start to see a shift change, with barriers being uncovered and addressed, skills being developed, strengths being maximised and organisations reaping the benefits of a more diverse population.
Hopefully then in years to come, when asked for a list of inspiring leaders, there will be no shortage of amazing men and women to bring to mind and inspire the next generation of leaders.